Union moves to take over 'corrupt' Buffalo
The Laborers International Union, headed
by Rhode Islander Arthur Coia, says the Mafia has the union in
By DEAN STARKMAN and JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writers
WASHINGTON -- Arthur A. Coia, general president
of the Laborers International Union of North America, has moved
to take over a local in Buffalo, N.Y., that union investigators
say has been "influenced, if not directly controlled"
by the Mafia for at least 20 years.
The takeover bid is the latest step in an
in-house campaign "to rid (the Laborers) of corrupt elements,"
Coia's action is significant because only
last year he was the target of Justice Department prosecutors,
who accused him of collaborating with organized crime figures
around the country, including those in Buffalo.
Indeed, a Justice Department document last
year accused Coia of trying to funnel union funds to the same
Mafia family that Coia's union is now moving against.
Robert D. Luskin, a former federal prosecutor
overseeing the union's anticorruption effort, notified members
of Local 210 last week that the international intended to oust
the local's officers and put a trustee in charge. The trustee
was not named.
In an internal union complaint, Luskin said
that Buffalo's Todaro crime family has held the local in its grip
for more than 20 years. The mob, the complaint said, doled out
jobs to Mafia members and their relatives, coerced
employers into tolerating no-show employees, permitted loan-sharking
and other illegal activies on job sites, and extracted kickbacks from contractors who in turn were allowed
to hire cheaper, nonunion labor.
Luskin's complaint also says the Todaro family
- long headed by Joseph A. Todaro Sr.and his son, Joseph Jr. -
has drained benefit funds and perverted union democracy by handpicking
local officers and strong-arming its 2,000 rank-and-file members
On Jan. 8, the international will argue its
complaint at an internal hearing before Peter F. Vaira, a union
hearing officer and also a former federal prosecutor, who will
decide whether a trusteeship is warranted. The local
will have an opportunity to contest Luskin's complaint.
Officers of Local 210 have already gone to
federal court to challenge the international's anticorruption
campaign. The local claims that Coia and the international overstepped
their authority by adopting a new ethics procedure without a vote
of the rank and file.
Local officials could not be reached yesterday.
"The existence of such wrongful influence
over the affairs of Local 210 is intolerable," Luskin said
in his letter to Local 210.
In a press release, Coia said the international's
action "is a major step along the path" of reforming
"The workers in Buffalo deserve a union
that is run entirely for their benefit, and we will do whatever
is necessary to make that happen," he added.
Only 13 months ago, Coia was the target of
an anticorruption campaign, this one brought by the Justice Department.
On Nov. 4, 1994, a federal prosecutor delivered
a 212-page document that, among other charges, alleged that Coia
has long associated with organized crime figures and tolerated mob corruption in his union.
The document, a draft of a civil racketeering
complaint, also said that from 1986 to July 1994, Coia conspired
with the Todaro crime family to pilfer benefit funds of upstate
New York locals.
The document said Coia used "actual
and threatened force, violence and . . . fear of economic harm"
to force independent-minded locals under the control of a regional organization headed by two associates of
One of Coia's alleged co-conspirators, according
to the government document, was Peter Gerace, the son-in-law of
the senior Todaro.
The document said the mob-controlled regional
organization would be used to reward mob-connected contractors,
provide jobs to Buffalo mobsters and pay for "unnecessary
or extravagant travel" by union officers.
Prosecutors demanded that Coia be ousted
from the international and that a federal court take control.
But during closed-door negotiations over
three months, the Justice Department backed off. On Feb. 13, it
signed an agreement that left Coia in place and allows the union
to police itself.
The Justice Department has never explained
why it chose not to pursue the allegations against Coia.
Coia, 52, a Rhode Islander who became general
president in February 1993, has denied the government's allegations.
Yesterday, he said that his moves in upstate
New York had been intended only to modernized and streamline the
"I do not even know the people there
at Local 210, personally or professionally," Coia said.
He added that he does not know either Todaro.
Luskin said the allegations against Local
210 have "nothing to do with" the government's charges
Luskin said, however, that union investigators
are "pursuing all" allegations made by the government,
plus other leads.
At a weekly press briefing, Atty. Gen. Janet
Reno on Thursday declined to comment on the union's actions in
Reno said she was unfamiliar with the details
of the case but promised to have the responsible officials look
Justice Department spokesman John Russell
said yesterday that the department is monitoring the union's compliance
with the Feb. 13 agreement.
"We routinely monitor them," Russell
said. "We continually watch everybody, including Coia."
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