April 17, 1998

Laborers President Investigated For Alleged Mafia Ties

Secret disciplinary hearings started Tuesday to determine whether Barrington resident Arthur A. Coia accepted kickbacks from a union vendor and fostered ties with the Mafia.


Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Arthur A. Coia, the Rhode Island union chief leader who became a top Democratic fundraiser and a friend of President Clinton, has begun his defense against charges that he let the Mafia hold sway in the Laborers International Union of North America.

In a secret union disciplinary proceeding that opened here Tuesday, Coia began what may be several weeks of quasi-judicial hearings that will determine whether he keeps his $254,000-a-year job as Laborers general president.

"I will be totally, completely and finally vindicated," Coia, 55, of Barrington, declared when the internal charges -- which included alleged kickbacks from a union vendor -- were lodged last November.

Coia is being represented by Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and Howard Guttman, of the prestigious Washington firm of Williams & Connelly.

The charges were brought by Robert D. Luskin, a former federal prosecutor whom Coia hired in 1994 to set up an in-house anti-corruption unit that staved off a government takeover of the mob-tainted union.

Luskin, the lawyer for the union executive board who acts as prosecutor of the internal charges, has not released details of the charges and would not comment on the Coia case yesterday.

Acting as judge in the quasi-judicial proceeding is Philadelphia lawyer and former U.S. prosecutor Peter F. Vaira, the union's independent hearing officer. Vaira will issue a written ruling on the case -- to which union members will have access -- after the hearings are concluded. In some previous internal disciplinary cases, Vaira's rulings have taken months to issue.

The union public affairs office has declined comment on the Coia matter. But in a summary released last fall, the union said that Coia is charged with, between 1980 and 1993, having "knowingly associated with members of organized crime, knowingly permitted organized-crime members to influence the affairs of LIUNA, breached his constitutional and fiduciary duties to the union and improperly accepted benefits from a LIUNA service provider."

At congressional hearings on the Laborers in 1996, the ex-FBI agent who is the union's chief internal investigator said he had pressed the Laborers to stop doing business with two Rhode Island companies because of their alleged mob ties.

The companies were Viking Oldsmobile-Cadillac, of Middletown, which leased cars to the union, and Sophisticated Traveler, of Providence, which booked trips for union members.

Coia has become entangled in an internal anti-corruption unit that he helped to create after the Justice Department named him and threatened a federal takeover of the Laborers in a draft racketeering complaint in November 1994.

With Luskin leading the negotiations, Coia signed an agreement in February 1995 under which the union set up the in-house policing office and the Justice Department held off on seizing the union -- but retained the right to do so if it deemed the internal cleanup unworkable. That three-year agreement was recently extended until next January.

Luskin said shortly after the agreement was signed that he had warned Coia during the negotiations, "Arthur, if you have anything to hide, don't go down this road."

The Justice Department's draft racketeering lawsuit -- which the internal investigators pledged to use as a road map --- contained detailed allegations that Coia has "associated with and been controlled by and influenced by organized-crime figures."

Among other specifics, the document alleges Coia had conspired early in his term as the union's president to funnel money from upstate New York locals to the Buffalo Mafia.

Coia has denied any wrongdoing.

Return to

All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.