Bureau of National Affairs
LEADING THE NEWS
FORMER TOP FBI OFFICIAL PRAISES LABORERS' ACCORD; COIA'S ROLE EXAMINED IN HEARING
By Court Gifford
Thursday July 25, 1996
Charges by House Republicans that Arthur A. Coia, president of the 750,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America, may have escaped prosecution for labor racketeering because of his friendship with President Clinton were discounted July 24 by the former head of the FBI's organized crime program.
Jim E. Moody told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, chaired by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla), that he was confident that Justice Department officials were not influenced by the White House in their preparation of a controversial oversight agreement that permitted Coia to remain in office while the union implemented internal reforms designed to rid the union of organized crime influence.
Moody said he knew all of the key individuals from the Justice Department who were involved in drawing up the oversight agreement and that he believed that none of them would have yielded or tolerated pressure from the White House. Moody also praised the agreement itself, saying that it had accomplished “much more than I had anticipated.”
Moody said there was “no question” in his mind--based on 25 years experience investigating organized crime--that Coia's late father, Arthur E. Coia, the union's former general secretary-treasurer, was an associate in La Cosa Nostra. He testified that he believed mob leaders still have the final word over who becomes president of the union, but he said he did not think there was “sufficient evidence” to prove that Coia's son is directly connected to organized crime.
However, a long-time FBI informant and former official of Laborers' Local 210 in Buffalo, N.Y., Ronald Fino, testified that Coia, who became general president in February, 1993, once admitted to him that he “answers to the mob,” meaning that La Cosa Nostra leaders have an influence over all major decisions and appointments. He said he was present during numerous meetings between Coia and individuals who are connected to organized crime, and that some of these individuals attended union conventions.
Fino said he first met Coia in 1978 and also knew Coia's father. He said his own father was an associate in La Cosa Nostra, but instilled in him “values that led to my eventual cooperation” with the FBI.
“I wish to strongly point out to this honorable committee that the control of the policy-making and appointments throughout the infrastructure of the Laborers International Union lay with the Cosa Nostra,” Fino testified. “You cannot become a general president, nor an international officer of LIUNA without mob approval.”
According to Fino, who asked to be shielded from cameras and the audience by a partition because he feared retaliation by the mob, LIUNA officials at the top have access to an “unlimited pool” of union funds that are used to hire “high caliber” attorneys who make federal prosecution difficult. Top union officials also are likely to be represented by public relations firms to help them project “an image of goodness,” he said.
But “as difficult as it has been to bring criminal indictments and convictions” against local and national union officials, Fino, who currently is employed as an adviser to W. Douglas Gow, the union's independent inspector general, agreed with Moody that “much has been accomplished” under the oversight agreement between the union and the Justice Department.
Under the oversight agreement, union leaders have agreed to rid the union of corrupt influences by 1998 or face a court-enforced government takeover. The union has hired Gow and nearly 50 former FBI agents to investigate and remove individuals found to have links to organized crime. According to the union, the independent investigators have removed or forced the resignations of 36 officials and placed six local unions and district counsels under trusteeship.
Under the agreement, the Justice Department is free to take control of the union, at any time, if it believes that the union is not following through with reforms. The agreement does not preclude the Justice Department from prosecuting union officials for criminal misconduct.
McCollum said he called the hearings, which will continue July 25, to examine organized crime's “stranglehold” on the Laborers' union. He said the subcommittee wanted to explore the question of why the Justice Department decided to implement the “historic” and unprecedented oversight agreement after the FBI had concluded in a draft complaint that four consecutive presidents, including Coia, “have associated with, and been controlled and influenced by, organized crime figures.”
McCollum remarked that in his view the “jury is still out” on whether the agreement was in the best interests of the government and the union members. But he told BNA during a break in the hearing that he did not agree with the decision to permit Coia to serve as president, given the amount of information made available to government investigators.
Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said Republicans and Democrats are in agreement when it comes to purging organized crime from the labor movement. But he said the hearings were being conducted with “a certain cloud over them” due to the steady flow of anti-union statements from the House Republican Conference, chaired by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), since the AFL-CIO announced a $35 million political education campaign to elect a Democratic Congress. Schumer also cited an April 23, 1996, memorandum to all House Republicans by Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa) and Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) urging members to forward to them any examples of the “Influence of Washington Labor Union Bosses/Corruption.”
Schumer called the reports on organized labor that have been issued by Boehner's office a “dismal collage of old news” that is bereft of any new information that is not already available to government prosecutors and the union's inspector general. Indeed, Schumer said the weight of evidence indicates that the Clinton administration has been “more aggressive” than either the Bush or Reagan administrations in seeking to eradicate corruption in the labor movement.
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, in a statement, called the hearings “an ugly and gross abuse of government authority” and “only the latest chapter in the organized smear campaign against union leaders by the House Republican leadership.”
“Laborers President Arthur Coia,” Sweeney said, “has been an acknowledged leader in fighting for change, for a stronger labor movement, for real health and safety on the job, for more aggressive organizing, and for cleaning up corruption wherever he could find it. Coia and the Laborers union should be applauded for their bold actions to crack down on the last vestiges of mob control in their union--not witch-hunted because of past problems and their current opposition to [Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich's attacks on working families.”
In a statement, LIUNA Vice President Carl Booker called the hearings “partisan theatrics more worthy of tabloid TV that the U.S. Congress.” According to Booker, Fino is “only knowledgeable about corruption in Buffalo in the late 1980s” and has sold information to the government and the media. The union released copies of an article published in the tabloid newspaper The Globe in which Fino alleges that O.J. Simpson, who played football in Buffalo, was framed by drug dealers for his wife's murder. Fino testified that he received $9,000 for the story through an intermediary, but never talked to anyone from the newspaper. He said he accepted the money because he was unemployed.
Republicans distributed a list of more than 100 contacts between Coia or the union and the president, Mrs. Clinton, or the White House beginning in early 1993 and ending in May of this year. Many of the contacts involved invitations to White House events, other invitations and donations, including a $100,000 loan to Clinton's Inaugural Committee. In one instance, Clinton sent a note to Coia thanking him for the gift of a custom-made golf club. “Thanks for the gorgeous driver--It's a work of art,” Clinton wrote.
(Text of selected testimony appears in Section E.)
(c) 2002 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Washington, D.C. 20037