Found guilty of one ethics
violation out of the 16 crimes he was charged with, Laborers Union
President Arthur Coia has been largely cleared of corruption charges
by the government-endorsed clean-up crew he put in place four
years ago. The union's General Executive Board (GEB) Attorney,
who prosecuted Coia, is appealing the decision. Shortly after
the verdict, federal attorneys in the Department of Justice put
out a press release expressing "disappointment" at the
outcome of Coia's trial.
International Hearing Officer
(IHO) Peter Vaira, who sat as judge in the case, found GEB Attorney
Robert Luskin's prosecution of the case weak, except for the one
charge of an improper relationship with a major union vendor.
On that count, the sole charge on which Coia was found guilty,
Vaira fined Coia $100,000, to be paid over two years.
For more than four years, the
Justice Department has watched and approved of every Laborers
Union investigation, prosecution, trial and appeal undertaken
by four special officers hired by the union to clean up the Mafia-tainted
union (See Hard Hat, every issue for the past four years).
Coia faced sixteen charges
in five separate categories. In the first catagory, there were
three charges relating to association with members of organized
crime. Specifically, Coia was alleged to have had a long-standing
relationship with the Patriarca crime family of the Mafia, or
La Cosa Nostra (LCN). IHO Vaira did not credit the testimony of
two former Patriarca crime family members, now in the Witness
Protection Program, who testified to the Coia-Patriarca connection.
The second set of three charges
related to Coia's term as Hearing Officer in the matter of Local
#66, Melville, New York, from 1990 through 1994. He was charged
with allowing the LCN to continue its control of that local when
he had a chance to end that control. On these charges, Vaira found
that Coia did all he could at the time. The local remained, at
that time, firmly in LCN control, but Vaira thought that there
was little Coia could have done about it.
The third set of three charges
have to do with Ron Fino, the former Buffalo, New York, LIUNA
local business manager who was an informant for the FBI for 16
years. The Laborers Union, under Coia's orders, ran and paid for
two investigations of Fino. According to the trial record, one
investigation looked into the allegations Fino made about organized
crime influence in LIUNA, while the second sought to dig up dirt
on Fino himself so the union could refute and counter-attack him.
Vaira found that Coia acted properly in carrying out these investigations
and spending union money to do it.
In a fourth area, four charges
examine Coia's 1993 appointment of John Serpico, then a LIUNA
vice-president, as chairman of the GEB Hearings Panel, the union's
internal trial board before the reform process began. In this
area, Vaira accepted Coia's argument that he only placed Serpico,
who Coia has long maintained is LCN-connected, and who Coia had
only just beaten out as the new president of LIUNA on Angelo Fosco's
death, in the Hearings Panel job to keep him away from greater
power and to ease him out of the union.
The fifth and final three charges
concerned Coia's relationship with Viking Oldsmobile, a Rhode
Island company that leased automobiles to the union. Luskin charged
Coia with having an improper relationship with Viking, lying to
the union's investigators about that relationship and failing
to pay taxes on the proceeds of a sweet deal the car dealer cut
for him. Vaira found that Luskin proved that Coia had an improper
relationship (specifically, he got a great deal on a fancy sports
car, lost money on the deal anyway, and avoided a bunch of federal
taxes in the process), failed to prove that he lied about it,
and had no jurisdiction over tax fraud. Vaira fined Coia $100,000
for the improper dealings with Viking.
Final score: 15 for Coia, 1
for Luskin. Luskin has appealed. The government is "disappointed."
No criminal indictments appear likely to come out of all this,
unless a United States Attorney brings Coia to trial on the tax
More than one Laborers Union
member Hard Hat spoke to called the trial's result a slap on the
wrist for Coia and a slap in the face for the union's members.
Coia can and will now proclaim that his administration has been
cleared of substantial wrongdoing after a thorough investigation
and government-approved trial.