Providence Journal-Bulletin Washington
``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.
By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
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
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
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