By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal Washington Bureau
January 21, 2000
-- Five years after it pushed the Laborers' union to set up an
internal anti-corruption unit, the Justice Department has loosened
its power over the union, citing significant progress in rooting
out organized crime.
But in an agreement announced yesterday by
the union and the government, an independent election officer
will have a stronger hand in imposing rules for the Laborers'
international elections next year, according to the Justice Department.
Union and government officials said last
month's early retirement by General President Arthur A. Coia,
who was found guilty of conflict of interest in March last year,
was not a condition for the new agreement.
Asst. Atty. Gen. James K. Robinson, who heads
the Justice Department's Criminal Division, declined to say whether
Coia, 56, of Barrington, faces federal charges tied to his conflict
of interest with a union vender.
An internal union prosecutor charged in 1998
that Coia evaded federal taxes in an arrangement he made with
the union vender, Rhode Island car dealer Carmine Carcieri, to
buy a $450,000 Ferrari. But the union's internal judge declined
to rule on the charge, saying it was the jurisdiction of federal
Several publications reported last fall that
Coia had agreed to step down as part of a plea bargain, but the
union denied those reports.
Yesterday's agreement was the latest revision
in a deal that Coia struck with the Justice Department in February
1995 to avoid a federal takeover of the Laborers. The union agreed
to create an in-house unit to investigate and prosecute organized
crime inside the Laborers. The government retained the right to
seize control of the union any time it chose.
Extensions of the deal weakened the government's
power somewhat. But the new version, which runs through the union's
next five-year election cycle, in 2006, for the first time removes
the threat of a federal takeover similar to the one the government
imposed on the Teamsters.
Under the new deal, the government must go
to court for redress if it deems that the union has broken its
agreement to continue the internal reforms.
Over the course of the five-year reform effort,
Robinson and other officials said yesterday, 226 members have
been expelled or forced out of the union -- 127 of whom had alleged
ties to organized crime.
The new agreement will bring back Stephen
B. Goldberg, a labor law professor from Chicago, as an independent
officer to oversee next year's elections. Goldberg said yesterday
that his first order of business will be to establish rules for
fundraising by candidates in the upcoming elections.
Goldberg said one example of his new authority
is a provision permitting him to order secret mail ballots in
any contested election -- a rule that the union fought during
the 1996 election. About 400,000 members are expected to be eligible
to vote next year.
Until the government stepped in five years
ago, Laborers officers had been chosen by delegates to an international
convention -- traditionally controlled by a small elite that the
government alleged was influenced by the Mafia.
Justice Department officials said the new
agreement could improve chances for rank-and-file members to foster
competition for high office in the Laborers' union. The union's
officers ``all realize they've now got to get elected by the people
they supposedly represent,'' said Tom Walsh, a Chicago prosecutor
who has been involved in the Laborers case.
The union's chief lawyer, Michael Bearse, played down the significance of the changes in Goldberg's powers.