London Sunday Times

'Mob Puppet' Pulls White House Strings

James Adams

July 28, 1996

Arthur Coia, president of the 750,000-strong Labourers International union, has been good to the Clintons. His union has donated more than $3m to the Democratic party since 1991 and two months ago he helped to organise a dinner that netted the Democrats $12m for this year's election campaign.

Last year he made out a personal cheque for $1,000 to the Clintons' legal defence fund, set up to pay for costs associated with corruption investigations and a sexual harassment charge.

But if Coia has been good to the Clintons, some Republicans and FBI agents think that the Clintons have been very good for Coia.

In January 1994, the head of the justice department's criminal and racketeering division contacted Hillary Clinton's office to warn her that her planned address to an annual meeting of the union might prove embarrassing. The union and Coia were the target of an investigation by the FBI because of suspected links with organised crime.

A 212-page report described Coia as a "mob puppet" and detailed how mobsters such as Carmine "the Snake" Persico, "Trigger Mike" Coppola and Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno had conspired to loot millions from the union. The report said Coia was its latest president to have been associated with, and controlled and influenced by, "organised crime figures".

None of this seemed to worry the Clintons. Hillary gave her speech and Coia has been a welcome guest at the White House 24 times in the past two years. On the wall of his office in Washington hangs a golf club from the president's personal collection that was given to him by Bill Clinton.

What infuriates some of those involved in the investigation is the deal cut with Coia that has allowed him to stay in office and out of jail in exchange for ridding the union of any mob connections.

The justice department argues that the deal saved 'taxpayers' money and will have the same effect as an expensive trial. Others argue that it was a sweetheart arrangement brokered in part by Harold Ickes, the deputy White House chief of staff, who used to do legal work for the union.

Certainly, the deal has had little immediate impact on the union and Coia remains free to enjoy his Rhode Island mansion, his Ferrari and his social evenings at the White House.


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