By Melissa Wahl
Tribune Staff Writer
December 7, 1999

Laborers Union President Arthur Coia, who has been plagued by allegations of corruption and mob ties, said Monday he will retire from the 800,000-member organization to avoid further stress on his family.

"For far too many years, my position in the union has caused me to be investigated non-stop, top to bottom and inside out," Coia said in a statement. He plans to retire Jan. 1.

Coia, 56, the union's general president since 1993, will be succeeded by Terry O'Sullivan, 44, who had been assistant to the general president and manager for the union's mid-Atlantic region.

A native Californian, O'Sullivan began his career in 1974 with the union and was a longtime member of Local 1353 in Charleston, W.Va.

The union, which represents workers in construction, maintenance, food service and other industries, has about 19,000 members in 21 Chicago-area locals.

The district council that oversees the Chicago locals has been run by a trustee since early 1998 because of alleged ties to organized crime. The trusteeship stems from reforms initiated in late 1994, after Justice Department officials confronted the union with findings that it had been the handmaiden of Chicago-based mobsters since 1926.

In August, the union and the government filed a consent decree acknowledging the progress that has been made in reforming the Chicago district council.

Of the several dozen people the government accused of corruption in 1994, Coia is the last to leave. The union fined Coia $100,000 earlier this year after accusing him of a conflict of interest in a 1991 deal to buy a high-priced vehicle from a car dealer who did business with the union. He was cleared of other charges made by independent attorneys who were hired about five years ago to reform the union.

The New York Times reported in October that Coia was planning to resign as part of a deal with federal prosecutors related to the car accusations. Coia was unavailable for comment.

Robert Luskin, a Washington, D.C., attorney who is overseeing reform efforts at the union, said Coia's retirement was not necessary to clean up the union. "Since 1995, he has worked tirelessly to support and implement this reform program," he said.

Coia, an attorney from Providence, R.I., inherited his father's position as the union's general secretary in 1989 and was named union president in 1993. During his term as president, Coia battled Hodgkin's disease and prostate cancer.

"At all times, in all ways, I have acted with the good of the union and its members foremost in my mind and in my heart," he said in a statement.

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