New York Hard Hat News

Number 16  Spring 99

Money talks, Coia walks

Special Two-Part Report by Bob Fitch

Giving fresh meaning to the old phrase a "travesty of justice," LIUNA President Arthur Coia was cleared on March 8th, of all 13 mob-related charges. The decision - by Coia's hand-picked hearings officer-signals that one of the longest and most bizarre judicial proceedings in U.S. legal history, will probably end next year with Coia still in control of the 750,000 member union, 450,000 real members according to critics. Further tainting the verdict was the discovery that Robert J. Luskin, the attorney Coia selected to carry out the investigation, had received $500,000 in gold bars from an associate of the Patriarca crime family. Coia's hold on his $255,000 position was first threatened in November 1994 when he was named in a 212 page Department of Justice RICO complaint charging he had "associated with and been controlled by" mobsters including the Providence-based Patriarca's.

But Coia - the accused in November 1994 - was allowed in February 1995 by the DOJ to choose his own judge, prosecutor and appellate judge to determine his fitness for office. His name disappeared from the DOJ list of LIUNA officers controlled by organized crime. Many have suggested a possible link between LIUNA's $3.1 million in campaign contributions to the Clinton Democrats during the '95-'96 election cycle and the extraordinary self-clean up arrangement. As part of the deal, Coia chose to serve as his prosecutor, Robert Luskin, the attorney he'd hired in November to defend himself against the Justice Department charges. A Republican-led House Judiciary Investigation in '96 failed to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing. Investigators were unaware that Luskin had received the gold bars during the time he was acting as Coia's attorney.

In finding Coia fit to keep his job, the Independent Hearing Officer Peter Vaira ruled:

"We're disappointed with the decision," said Scott Lassar, the U.S, attorney in Chicago who is leading the Department of Justice's investigation of LIUNA in a public statement. "While we believe the case was thoroughly investigated," he added, "we believe (Vaira's) opinion contains serious factual and legal errors." He urged Robert J Luskin to appeal.

While Justice could still intervene until next year when the '95 agreement expires, the DOJ has given up further leverage over the investigative process, to Coia and his appointees. Meanwhile, Coia has used the cleanup process to purge the 30 LIUNA locals and district councils, Over 200 officials have been ousted. LIUNA supporters call it an unprecedented cleanup. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago told New York Hard Hat News: "We're pleased with the reform process, For the first time, elections have been held. The members can vote."

No real cleanup

Critics insist that there's been no genuine cleanup and no real election. The '96 contest simply pitted two rival mob factions against each other: with heavy underdog Bruno Caruso serving as the candidate of the Chicago Outfit against Coia, the favored candidate of the New York and New England families. They describe the "cleanup" process as a one-sided mob war by other means: "going to the mattress" under DOJ rules.

Not a single press account last March mentioned that Viara, who was serving as Coia's judge - was being paid a $140,000 salary by Coia. Or that attorney, Robert J. Luskin, who was prosecuting Coia, had received over $500,000 in gold bars from an associate of the Patriarca crime family about the time Luskin was hired by Coia, Or that the appeal of Vaira's verdict, which Luskin has filed, will be heard by another Coia appointee, Clinton's former associate counsel, Neil Eggleston."I expect his decision in July," Luskin told New York Hard Hat. He declined to state the grounds for his appeal to Eggleston of Vaira's decision. Luskin, however, told the Engineering News Record that he will appeal only "limited parts" of the decision. The ENR says Luskin isn't expected to challenge the dismissal of the mob-related charges.

Innovation or whitewash?

This "innovative" exercise in the privatization of justice, as LIUNA calls it, was set up after an October 21, 1994 White House meeting in the Oval Office. Participants were Coia, Clinton and former LIUNA attorney Harold Ickes, then serving as Clinton's no.2 White House aide.

You wonder: did Coia discuss his RICO problem with Ickes, Clinton or Hillary-who would keynote the Laborers convention? Did he brag to associates about his White House clout? Did the Laborers hire Ickes to gain influence with Clinton? Coia has refused to answer these questions. And Luskin understandably has chosen not to pursue them. How could be investigate the terms of his own appointment?

The Clinton Justice Department's "Let Arthur Do It" decision plainly ignored a FBI background check. One made prior to appointing Coia to a Presidential Commission. Wrote the FBI in 1994: "Coia is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family." The FBI's report got Coia bumped from a position as an unpaid member of the President's Council on Competitiveness. But it didn't stop him from being allowed to hold a much more sensitive job: heading a clean up of an organization identified in the 1986 President's Commission On Organized Crime as one of the four most mobbed unions in the country.

Reversal of Fortune

Between November '94 when DOJ demanded that Coia step down as General President and February 1995 some minds apparently changed. Up until '95 Paul Coffey, the chief of the OCRS indignantly and repeatedly rejected LIUNA's offer to clean itself up. But then in February, a complete reversal: the Justice Department which had identified Coia -as a "mob puppet" in its 212 draft complaint - approved the clean-up-yourself deal. (LIUNA explains the shift by claiming that the charges in the complaint weren't really true -DOJ exaggerated the racketeering problem to force the union into the clean-up deal.)

Not surprisingly, since it was his call, Coia chose as his prosecutor, his defense attorney, Robert Luskin, the earring wearing,' motorcycle driving attorney he'd hired -in '94 to handle negotiations with the DOJ_ In Congressional hearings in 1996 however, DOJ representatives denied they'd been pressured by the White House. By allowing Coia to hire his own accusers -and run his own organized crime cleanup a DOJ spokesman testified, the government saved money.

Shortly after Justice turned over Coia's prosecution to his retainers, serious amounts of LIUNA cash started flowing to the Clinton White House, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic elected officials. Coia had been one of Clinton's earliest labor supporters - contributing $100,000 to the '92 campaign. But in the 1995-6 election cycle, the Center For Responsive Politics found that LIUNA ranked sixth at $3,076,000 - among all campaign contributors outspending such noted money-throwers as Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, the American Medical Association and the American Bankers Association Riding the momentum of his cash flow, Coia visited the White House almost as often as Monica: 120 times. Plus he got to fly on Air Force One. Hillary accompanied Coia to LIUNA's Florida convention despite staff warnings that her host's scene was heavily mobbed up.

Kissing Vincent's ring

For a parallel in the annals of American injustice, the O.J. case naturally comes to mind. But at least O.J. Simpson wasn't exonerated after testifying in a court that he was guilty. The 55-year-old Coia himself admitted in sworn testimony that he got his job as LIUNA's General Secretary treasurer after assuring Chicago mob leader Vincent Solano of his good will at a 1989 meeting in O'Hare Airport. Coia had to fly to O'Hare because in the late '80s, the road to the top LIUNA offices in Washington DC ran through Chicago, where "The Outfit" was running the international union. Angelo Fosco, LIUNA's International President was a buddy of Chicago Boss of Bosses Tony Accardo. But Fosco's real support came from Solano. Fosco told Coia he had to check with Serpico if he wanted the number 2 job. Solano, who led his own Chicago crime family on the north side number 42 on a 1986 Fortune' list of top 50 mob organizations - also served as boss of a Chicago laborers local.

Coia testified that he was led to a small coffee shop at O'Hare, by John Serpico a mob associate serving as an aide to President Fosco. Solano was holding court inside. He told Coia to sit down and directed Serpico to get lost for a while. Solano told Coia he could succeed his dad, but he told him, "I want you to understand this - that John Serpico will be the next General President of this union." Coia recalls Solano pounding the table and saying, "We're grooming that man over there to be the next General President." By meeting with Solano, wasn't Coia engaging in barred conduct as defined in 18.U.S.C. 1961 (1) "knowingly associating with any member or associate of the organized crime syndicate known as La Cosa Nostra"? Not really, according to Vaira, because Coia didn't know who Solano was. Evidently, Coia didn't read Fortune or follow the 1983 Senate hearings highlighting Solano's control of north side prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking and LIUNA's Local 1

For a guy who didn't know who was-who in the organization, Coia had clearly figured out how to advance inside it. Coia Sr. - a long time associate of the murderous New England crime family boss Raymond Patriarca Sr. - was gravely ill, Coia Jr. grasped how be could move up to his father's number 2 position. Father and son had been indicted together by the US, attorney in 1981 for conspiracy to loot benefit funds (They got off on a technicality.). But this could hardly smudge Coia's credentials with the Chicago mob, since Accardo, Solano and Fosco had all been co-indictees in the same conspiracy case, And most important, as the eldest son of the General Secretary Treasurer, and New England Regional Manager, Coia was by mob custom and historical precedent the legitimate heir to his dad's job.

New York crime families have handled the succession problems in the Mason Tenders the same way. After the New York Mason Tenders boss Gaspar Lupo died in 1991, James Massera, the Genovese crime family captain in charge of the District Council had to decide whom to appoint next. Gaspar's sons, Frankie and James both sought his approval for top union jobs. "Please Jimmy," the FBI transcript of the wiretap reads, "I know my father would want it this way." Massera replies, "Alright Frankie, if it means so fucking much already." Massera later explainsed, "I put him there because I figured he's qualified and it's only right because he was in line. Gaspar was put there by his father"

The Chicago boys

And Angelo Fosco - head of LIUNA - was put there by his father, Peter. Now Angelo's death presented an opportunity for Coia to ascend all the way to the top spot - despite opposition from the Chicago mob. Chicago's candidate was the relatively unknown Serpico - Solano's messenger boy at the 1989 O'Hare airport meeting. Serpico was Fosco's chief assistant. But as Vaira points out, "there was no public acknowledgment of Serpico holding that post. And Serpico's main supporters - Solano and Tony Accardo -had just died too. Sensing a power vacuum, Coia got to the board members quickly - before Fosco. could be buried in Chicago. At the funeral, Coia, explained in his Serpico's disciplinary hearing testimony, The "Outfit" could have mobilized its formidable local forces and directly pressured the Executive Board as they'd done in '75 when Angelo Fosco's predecessor, Peter Fosco died. Lobbying the board hard against Serpico, Coia says he argued it was impolitic to make someone named in the 1985 Presidential Crime Commission reports (Serpico) the General President of the union.

Coia prevailed but not without antagonizing the Outfit. Serpico and John Matassa, a "made" member of the Chicago mob, told Coia at his father's '93 funeral that 'the boys did not like what (Coia) did by stealing and taking the Presidency from Chicago".

Peter Vaira, the Hearings officer, consistently interprets Coia's behavior in the most favorable possible light. Instead of asking, "Why did you invite these goombas to your family funeral?' he takes Outfit members' complaints as evidence that Coia is opposed by organized crime as a whole. Vaira - who barred Coia's opponents from distributing -the Justice Department's 212 page complaint to the delegates at the 1996 Las Vegas Convention - explains all Coia's mob associations as fleeting, unknowing, understandable, or even as laudable tactical maneuvers to fight the job. For him, they show not that Coia was playing a devious game, first kissing up to the Outfit to get the no.2 position, then kissing them off once he'd consolidated his position. But rather before becoming LIUNA's NO.2, Coia simply didn't know whom he was dealing with; and afterwards, he used shrewd tactics to resist the Chicagoans,

But who can believe that Coia didn't know who Solano was, given that the two were indicted together in '81 in the welfare fund raiding scam? Equally far-fetched are Vaira's assumptions in the Serpico case Vaira blew off the charge that Coia should be punished for appointing Chicago mob favorite Serpico as LIUNA's chief judicial hearings officer. For Vaira, this was not wrong because Coia was merely choosing the lesser evil. Serpico had asked for LIUNA's no.2 job. But Coia wouldn't let him have it, but instead appointed Serpico hearings officer at $100,000 a year. Besides, Vaira points out, when Serpico got the 100G's, he agreed to step down from the LIUNA executive board.

Patriarcha on "Arthur's Balls

It's possible to argue, as Raymond Patriarcha Jr. does that "Arthur has forgotten where he's come from." And that since '95, he's turned his back on his former associates. But explaining Coia's career path up to '95 without the mob, is like imagining Dracula without his coffin.

Coia admits he got his no.2 position after he applied to mob boss Solano. He acknowledges further he was opposed for the Presidency by the Chicago LCN. Was it just Coia's persuasive powers that got him the top job? Or did he have support from other factions in organized crime - including aid from his family's New England base. To establish that Coia is just not a mob manipulator, but a mob fighter, Vaira has to argue that continuing intimate contacts between the Coia's and the Patriarcha's going back more than forty years, didn't amount to all that much. At least Vaira can say he's got Raymond Patriarcha's word for it. Patriarcha told FBI agents he didn't have a relationship with Coia. Nor did any of his subordinates. And besides, observed Patriarcha Jr., "Arthur does not have the balls to be a gangster."

How does Patriarcha know about "Arthurs's balls"? Because Coia was his lawyer. And he met regularly with Coia in Coia's law offices between '81 and '86. Isn't this evidence of barred conduct with a mobster? No explains Vaira. The Coia's and the Patriarcha's were indicted together in '81 in the Hauser case. Coia was charged with accepting a $30,000 "fee" which was really intended as a bribe for his dad to permit the looting of a LIUNA benefit plan. Most of the meeting between Coia and Patriarcha were necessary for common defense against this charge. And therefore not barred conduct. Besides, after the case was settled, there weren't many other meetings between the two: Coia's law partner testifies that Arthur billed Patriarcha for only six hours legal work when he incorporated a Patriarcha company.

What about the dog breeding? Did Coia's breeding Rottweilers with Patriarcha suggest a certain intimacy with the mob leader? As Vaira explains it, no. It turns out that Coia bred Rottweilers with lots of people because he owned a kennel - Southwind Farms. And that Raymond Patriarcha coincidently happened to be a Rottweiller fancier too. He had one of his dogs bred at Southwind Farms in '82 or '83. But it wasn't Arthur that supervise the mating. It was his wife. And besides, the mating produced no puppies.

Local 66: the Son Also Rises

Breeding was also a factor in Vaira's ruling in the Local 66 case Coia, he ruled, can't be blamed in '89 for approving a trusteeship that put the sons of convicted racketeers Michael LaBarbara Jr. and Abbiatello Sr. in charge of Local 66' pension funds. Nor was Coia wrong to decide that the members should pay the $400,000 in legal bills LaBarbara and Abbiatello ran up in defending themselves against 51 charges they engaged in racketeering in concert with the Luchesse crime family.

You have to understand LIUNA's institutional culture, argues Vaira. Coia testified that he had to approve the deal that had been set up by Sam Caivano - then LIUNA's regional trustee. Caivano was forced to resign in 1997 as an associate of New Jersey's De Cavalcante crime family. But in '89, Sam put his son David in charge of Local 66 as trustee. Son David, in turn put Labarbara 3d and Abbiatello Jr. in charge of the Local's pension funds. According to Vaira, Coia complained to Sam Caivano about the "negative perception" putting racketeer's kids in charge of the members' money. But Caivano wasn't listening.

Coia, who was then the no.2 LIUNA officer, is charged with permitting mob influence. But Vaira rejects the charge. "The argument fails to recognize the institutional make-up of the International Union at that time." You see, "at that time, a local union was autonomous and the International Officers had very limited power over it." Keeping the racketeer influence in place was Caivano's fault, not Coia's.

Luskin's Gold Bars

Many of the charges against Coia seem telling. But like the dog breeding, they've been chewed over in the press since.'95. Why didn't Robert Luskin the prosecutor come up with more new material? "Coia cut the compensation rates that private investigators received," observed Jim McGough, a Chicago based LIUNA rank and file activist. "They could get $150 an hour working for AMOCO in the private sector. LIUNA cut their rates from $100 to $80 an hour. Besides a lot of guys were afraid to come forward."

Other critics like Ken-Boehme, director of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center who petitioned the Criminal Division of the Justice Department last year to have Luskin removed, insist that the fix was on from the beginning. "He was Coia's defense lawyer, How could he turn around and suddenly be his prosecutor?" asks Boehme. "It's unprecedented in legal history."

Certainly, Luskin didn't improve his credibility in March 1999 by his admission to a U.S. attorney that he'd received 45 gold bars from Stephen Saccoccia, a New England metal dealer and ex-con who'd been identified as a Patriarca crime family associate. Saccoccia got 666 years for money laundering. Saccoccia hired Luskin for routine appeals work, paying him $169,171 in money transfers from a Swiss bank and gold bars worth $505,000. US Attorney. Sheldon Whitehouse settled the case when Luskin agreed to pay the government $245,000 as proceeds of a criminal enterprise.

Luskin insist that Saccoccia was not a Patriarca associate. But federal customs officials insist he is. And court papers from a previous Saccoccia conviction show that the metals dealer operated as a Patriarca money launderer.


Given that Luskin's appeal won't contest the mob related charges, Coia is almost certain to keep his international job that paid him total compensation in 1997 of $419,950,87. How does Luskin feel now that he is about to lose the biggest case of his life? Actually, he sounded pretty perky over the phone when I spoke: with him last month. Maybe the nearly $5,000,000 in legal fees he's received from the man he's prosecuting, Arthur Coia, serves as compensation of a sort. Then too, Luskin says again and again that under his leadership as GEB Attorney, the union's been purged of racketeering influence and is acting like a union again.

Next issue: The conspiracy to keep LIUNA dirty. How racketeers friendly to Coia kept power in locals across the country - while the beatings went on in Connecticut and the $60,000,000 in missing funds from the New York Mason Tenders' District Council was never found.

Copyright Hard Hat News@1999

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