Pittsburgh Tribune Review


Just Another FOB

McNickle Editorial

The president of the 750,000-member Laborers International Union of North America is expected to resign this month and plead guilty to fraud charges. That's what The New York Times reported late last week (though a union spokesman denied it all). But what has been woefully under -reported is the intimate tie that Arthur A. Coia has had to President and Mrs. Clinton.

Federal investigators long had alleged that Mr. Coia, 56, was associated with and controlled by organized crime, "a front man for labor racketeers who were looting pensions and welfare funds," reporter Eugene H. Methvin documented three years ago.

Additional documents showed that the Clintons maintained a fund-raising and social relationship even after the FBI told the White House counsel's office that Coia had links to organized crime. The information was enough to warrant Clinton to back off from his plan to appoint Coia to a presidential commission, but not much else. Among other Clinton-Coia tidbits, compiled by Methvin and others:

- Coia was a frequent dinner and traveling companion of the Clintons, even participating in official state functions, Mr. Methvin found.

- He worked "furiously" to gain access to the Clinton inner circle even before the president took office in 1993, Methvin added.

- Coia went on campaign trips with the Clintons and traded expensive golf clubs with the president.

- On Nov. 4, 1994, Bill Clinton penned Coia a congratulatory note for becoming a grandfather. It was the same day that the Justice Department hand-delivered to the union a draft of a civil racketeering suit it intended to file if Coia did not resign. It was less than one month after the White House was told by the FBI that Coia "is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family" and the subject of past criminal investigations and an ongoing civil racketeering probe.

- At the height of the Justice Department's attempt to oust Coia (in February 1995), Hillary Clinton addressed the union's top officials in Miami Beach.

- And not long after, the Justice Department capitulated, giving the union a chance to "clean its own house," Methvin reported. It was an investigation that was effectively conducted by the union but overseen by the federal government. Coia was cleared on the organized crime allegations in March.

But the probe did raise questions about a deal that allowed Coia to avoid paying $40,000 in taxes on a luxury sports car purchased with the help of a union supplier. If Coia follows through with a plea bargain agreement with federal prosecutors, he would be spared jail. But he would be barred from any future contact with Laborers International, one of the largest trade unions in the country.

Over the past seven years, if not most of his professional political career, Bill Clinton has shown a dedicated predilection for associations that have raised eyebrows for their impropriety in nearly every quarter. Call it the "yuk"-factor, call it what you will, but it will not be missed come Jan. 20, 2001.


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