ROBERT L. JACKSON
September 12, 1995
The Laborers International Union, accused
by a presidential commission nine years ago of associating with
organized crime, has taken the unique step of trying to reform
itself by -- in effect -- hiring the FBI to conduct a thorough
For the last six months, W. Douglas Gow,
a retired chief of the FBI's domestic intelligence division, has
been working as the union's full-time inspector general, a powerful
post that enables him to investigate allegations of corruption
against any officers or members and to seek their ouster.
To assist in the task, Gow has hired 40 retired
FBI agents as full-time or part-time investigators and auditors,
who are spread out across the country.
The union's action, taken after a threatened
lawsuit by the Justice Department, comes nearly a decade after
the President's Commission on Organized Crime found that "organized
crime has a documented relationship with at least 26 locals and
three district councils, as well as the international union."
The union represents 700,000 mainly low-skilled construction workers.
In a recent interview, Gow called the union's
move "unprecedented." Unlike court action that the government
took seven years ago against the 1.3-million-member Teamsters
Union -- another organization criticized on the same grounds by
the presidential commission -- the Justice Department prepared
documents against the laborers' union but never filed them in
court because the union agreed to a reform mechanism at the last
By contrast, the Teamsters waged a bitter
court fight against the 1988 federal racketeering lawsuit in which
the Justice Department accused them of being dominated by the
Mafia. But the union, the nation's largest, ultimately gave in,
agreeing to a court-approved consent decree that called for appointing
a panel of outside overseers to launch a three-year effort to
rid the Teamsters of what a federal judge termed "the curse
of organized crime."
During this period, the Teamster overseers
brought about the removal or resignation of more than 150 local
or national officers on grounds of financial wrongdoing or past
association with criminal elements.
But, beginning with the first direct election
of a new national president, the Teamsters in 1992 entered into
a new phase of reform. Teamsters President Ron Carey and his associates
were put in charge of the reform movement, with the proviso that
three independent overseers could look over their shoulders, alter
their decisions or goad them into more decisive action.
The laborers' union agreement, however, has
embodied self regulation in a way that has never been tried before.
The union must file progress reports with the Justice Department
every 90 days, and if department officials determine that reforms
are too slow, they reserve the right to go to court with an official
Laborers' union President Arthur A. Coia,
who has been accused of past associations with mob figures in
Rhode Island, said: "We are working with the government to
implement new measures to bring about a union totally free of
Coia said he confers daily with Gow and Washington-based
attorney Robert Luskin, a former prosecutor who examines charges
sought by Gow.
Gow said he has sufficient power to seek
the removal of Coia, if that should be warranted, but he declined
to say if the union president is among those under investigation.
" . . . I will not confirm whether any specific official
is being investigated until charges are announced."
Gow, whose 30-year career with the FBI included
stints in the field and at bureau headquarters, said he is directing
more than 200 union-related investigations, "some involving
LCN (La Cosa Nostra) contact and some involving financial wrongdoing."
Seventeen national and local union officers
so far have resigned or been suspended pending results of Gow's
"We've only been operational for six
months, so I think we've accomplished a lot," he said.
A central element of its agreement with the
government has involved the laborers' adoption of a formal ethics
and disciplinary code that spells out prohibited conduct by members
and officers. The code empowers Gow to institute proceedings against
anyone for "knowingly associating with any member or associates
of an organized crime family or syndicate," or for committing
any act of bribery, extortion, fraud, bookmaking or acceptance