LABORERS UNION WATCHDOG ACCUSES LEADER OF MOB TIES
By John O'Brien, Tribune Staff Writer
Web-posted Friday, November 7, 1997;
6:20 a.m. CST
For decades the leadership of the
Laborers Union has been little more than a tool of organized crime,
federal prosecutors say, with its traditional Chicago leadership
and lucrative funds for the health and welfare of members influenced
by reputed mob figures.
On Thursday, the union's own internal
watchdog seemed to validate that stark commentary. It accused
the chief executive, Laborers President Arthur A. Coia, of associating
with gangland figures and allowing them to dictate the affairs
of the union.
The accusations are dated, going back
to a seven-year period ending in 1993, when Coia served in lesser
positions of trust before being elected president.
The charges against Coia, predicted
by him in a general membership statement issued 10 days ago, seek
his removal from office, pending a disciplinary hearing.
Informed of the action against him,
Coia denied the charges and vowed to fight them at his trial before
the union's independent hearing officer, Peter Vaira.
No trial is likely until December
or January. Until then, officials said Coia may remain in office.
The charges come nearly three years
after the union, with Coia's affirmation, agreed to government
demands to purge corruption from its own ranks. If the cleanup
faltered, the government reserved the right to step in.
When the deal was struck in January
1995, government officials were poised to file a racketeering
complaint against the union, saying that Coia and three of his
predecessors from Chicago were controlled by the mob.
The union's 450,000 members of record
include 19,000 in the Chicago area. All perform construction work
and other gritty jobs.
Only last month, the union's corruption-hunting
machinery concluded extensive hearings into charges that the Laborers
District Council in Chicago, headed by Bruno Caruso, is mob-connected.
A ruling on those charges is expected before Jan. 1.
Coia, like Caruso, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. But each has accused the other of being a tool of mobsters.