Providence Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

Coia vows to fight internal charges from Laborers Union

10.28.97 00:39:36

``I am innocent,'' he says in an emotional statement to union officials around the country, regarding allegations that he tolerated mob influence and accepted improper payments.


WASHINGTON -- Laborers Union General President Arthur A. Coia vowed yesterday to fight charges by the union's anticorruption unit, saying he believes ``I will be totally, completely and finally vindicated.''

The union's internal prosecutor, Robert D. Luskin, told the Justice Department earlier this month that he will charge Coia by Oct. 31 with tolerating mob influence in the union and accepting improper payments.

``Today, I tell you what I will tell him,'' the Rhode Island-born Coia wrote in an emotional, two-page letter to union officials around the country. ``What I will tell the hearing officer. What I will tell our members. What eventually I will tell the world. That I am innocent of those charges. That I am the man I say I am. That I am the man I have proved I am, over and over and over again.''

Coia helped create the corruption-plagued union's self-policing office in a 1995 agreement with the Justice Department that staved off a federal takeover of the Laborers and Coia's ouster.

Union dissidents and congressional Republicans have criticized the deal. But Luskin and officials at Justice have noted from the start that the agreement permitted them to investigate allegations of corruption against Coia and other Laborers officers.

Critics have noted that Coia was a top contributor to the Democratic Party and enjoyed good access to the White House during the time that he was negotiating his pact with the Justice Department. But a panel of top officials from Justice testified under oath at a 1996 congressional hearing that they had not been pressured politically to come to terms with Coia.

The union's quasi-judicial ethics rules call for charges to be tried at proceedings conducted by a hearing officer ``in a courtroom-like manner.'' The rules of evidence are looser than in common law courts; attendance is limited to the parties and their lawyers or representatives.

The hearing officer, like Luskin and the internal investigative unit, is paid by the union. No charges have yet been made public; neither has any timetable for proceedings against Coia.

Coia's lawyer, Howard Gutman, declined to comment on the case yesterday. He took issue with a story in the Sunday Journal that said he had suggested the internal charges might not materialize. That story paraphrased Gutman's statement of last week that he understood there had been ``no decision one way or another'' on whether to charge Coia.

Coia's letter scotches speculation since last week that he might resign his $254,000-a-year post. Some ``advise me to pursue my career as a labor attorney,'' he said. ``A path that would offer far higher financial rewards, far less personal stress and far less private pain" and ``prove easier . . . on me, easier on my family.''

But, Coia wrote, ``life tells us that truth and only truth stands on its own, and all else fails. I therefore have only one choice and that is to stand for this truth. That is the legacy I choose to leave my union, my family, my children and grandchildren. The legacy of a man who fought for what he knew to be true. Who stood for what he knew was right.''

Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company

Return to

All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.