July 28, 1996
Arthur Coia, president of the 750,000-strong
Labourers International union, has been good to the Clintons.
His union has donated more than $3m to the Democratic party since
1991 and two months ago he helped to organise a dinner that netted
the Democrats $12m for this year's election campaign.
Last year he made out a personal cheque for
$1,000 to the Clintons' legal defence fund, set up to pay for
costs associated with corruption investigations and a sexual harassment
But if Coia has been good to the Clintons,
some Republicans and FBI agents think that the Clintons have been
very good for Coia.
In January 1994, the head of the justice
department's criminal and racketeering division contacted Hillary
Clinton's office to warn her that her planned address to an annual
meeting of the union might prove embarrassing. The union and Coia
were the target of an investigation by the FBI because of suspected
links with organised crime.
A 212-page report described Coia as a "mob
puppet" and detailed how mobsters such as Carmine "the
Snake" Persico, "Trigger Mike" Coppola and Anthony
"Fat Tony" Salerno had conspired to loot millions from
the union. The report said Coia was its latest president to have
been associated with, and controlled and influenced by, "organised
None of this seemed to worry the Clintons.
Hillary gave her speech and Coia has been a welcome guest at the
White House 24 times in the past two years. On the wall of his
office in Washington hangs a golf club from the president's personal
collection that was given to him by Bill Clinton.
What infuriates some of those involved in
the investigation is the deal cut with Coia that has allowed him
to stay in office and out of jail in exchange for ridding the
union of any mob connections.
The justice department argues that the deal
saved 'taxpayers' money and will have the same effect as an expensive
trial. Others argue that it was a sweetheart arrangement brokered
in part by Harold Ickes, the deputy White House chief of staff,
who used to do legal work for the union.
Certainly, the deal has had little immediate
impact on the union and Coia remains free to enjoy his Rhode Island
mansion, his Ferrari and his social evenings at the White House.