Hard Hat News

Laborers President Gets A Pass

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).

5 Ethics Areas Examined

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.

A Clear Win for Coia

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 matter.

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.

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