By Stephanie Mencimer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 7, 1998;
When W. Douglas Gow moved onto the fifth-floor
of the Washington headquarters of the Laborers' InternationalUnion of North America (LIUNA) in 1995, he
changed the locks and swept for bugs. He demanded file
cabinets impervious to firebombing and hacker-proofed his computers
using the protocols of his former employer, the FBI.
The quintessential G-man with starched white
shirt and spit-shined shoes, Gow was thus ensconced in the belly
of the beast -- a union whose alleged organized crime ties date
back to Al Capone. A retired FBI deputy director, he had been
hired by LIUNA to conduct an extraordinary experiment in labor
reform -- a self-policing plan that many saw as fraught with conflicts.
Working from within, Gow was placed in charge of a no-holds-barred
investigation designed to weed out allegedly corrupt LIUNA members.
Some of them worked just outside Gow's
Three years later, Gow and the internal strike
force have shaken the roots of the 750,000-member blue-collar
union and been blasted along the way by everyone from ditch diggers
to members of Congress. The effort, just extended by the Justice
Department for another year, has been slow, expensive and decidedly
uphill. Its long-term effects on union leadership are still unclear.
But as experiments go, the mob-busting efforts
of Gow and his team have been viewed by reformers as
a promising new tool in reconstructing the culture within a historically
troubled union. Since the 1930s, the government has fought against
organized crime's labor influence -- first with select prosecutions
of tainted members, and more recently with broad court supervision
of union affairs and elections stemming from civil lawsuits brought
under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
LIUNA's approach offers a third option --
letting the union itself bear the cost and responsibility for
keeping its membership clean. LIUNA hired Gow as inspector general
in 1995 to avert a threatened Justice Department RICO suit. A
draft complaint alleged that four LIUNA presidents - including
current President Arthur A. Coia -- had been controlled by organized
crime. It identified more than 80 LIUNA officials who had been
convicted of major crimes and said that criminal influence was
evident at the local and international levels. It demanded Coia's
removal, threatening to seize control of LIUNA as it had the Teamsters
Coia and a team of white-collar defense lawyers
offered a compromise: To avoid a lawsuit, the union would create
an internal -- but completely autonomous --
strike force of former federal agents and prosecutors to enforce
a strict new ethics code. If the effort failed, LIUNA would yield
to a government takeover. Justice accepted the deal and has been
closely monitoring the progress.
Gow set out on tricky footing. One of his
first tasks was to investigate Coia himself. At 55, Coia was
a Democratic Party stalwart touted by LIUNA as the new face of
But Gow's team reopened unresolved issues
from Coia's past and honed in on the Justice Department's allegation
of organized crime affiliations. Its findings led attorney Robert
Luskin, acting as internal prosecutor, to file disciplinary charges
against Coia last November. If "barred conduct" is proven
during the ongoing hearings, Coia could lose his $254,000-a-year
In a letter last fall to LIUNA's board, Coia
expressed confidence that "when the truth is brought forward,
I will be totally, completely and finally vindicated."
Coia's case stands out among hundreds of
investigations now underway, a job that Gow says "is much
larger than I imagined." Dozens of LIUNA members have been
ousted and 30 locals and district councils have been taken over
by the international.
But Coia's critics say Gow's work is far
from finished. They complain that some already disciplined by
Gow's team remain in union jobs. Because all the strike force
members are on the union payroll, some question whether Gow and
his colleagues are beholden to Coia and unlikely to discipline
him or other high-ranking union officials.
Gow brushes off the suggestion. "You've
probably heard that Mr. Coia tells us what to do and when
to do it, but that's just baloney," he said in an interview
in his spartan office. "I can't recite one instance
where he has interfered with anything we have done."
Alex Corns, business manager of a LIUNA local
in San Mateo, Calif., complained that Gow is up against an impossible
challenge. "There's just not enough resources to fight what
they've got to do. It would be like trying to fight a forest fire
with six people."
When Gow took the $140,000-a-year job, the
Justice Department handed him a road map to alleged corruption
within LIUNA's international headquarters and 600 locals -- a
212-page draft racketeering complaint describing a union dominated
by organized crime.
In LIUNA -- a union representing construction
workers, chicken pluckers, hazardous waste handlers and various
other trades -- organized crime had a 70-year grip on union business,
prosectors alleged. The complaint spelled out criminal influence
in matters ranging from the selection of officers to the awarding
of service contracts. LIUNA's pension and welfare funds -- more
than 300 in all totaling tens of billions of dollars -- were a
magnet for organized crime, the complaint alleged. In the early
1990s, for example, prosecutors discovered that New York City's
Mason Tenders District Council, a LIUNA affiliate, lost $50 million
in pension funds through real estate investments allegedly controlled
by organized crime.
Coia's leadership since 1993 had been troubling
to the Justice Department, which described him in a memo to the
White House as a "mob puppet." Coia was indicted in
Florida in 1981 on racketeering charges, but the case was dropped
after a judge ruled the statute of limitations had expired. He
was accused of taking kickbacks from an insurance agent who dealt
with LIUNA locals. Coia has said the charge was groundless and
has denied being influenced by organized crime.
In recent years, Coia has had high visibility
within the Democratic Party. He oversaw $1.4 million
in union donations to the Democratic National Committee in 1994
and played golf with President Clinton. He supported one of first
lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's favorite charities, the U.S. Botanic
Gardens, and gave personally to Clinton's legal defense fund.
LIUNA invited Hillary Clinton to speak at
a 1994 convention, but Paul Coffey, the former head of the Justice
Department's organized crime and racketeering section, warned
her in a memo that she should "avoid any direct contact with
Coia, if possible" because the department was preparing to
file a RICO suit. The first lady turned down the invitation.
Coffey was the same official who later approved
Coia's cleanup plan, a decision that some Coia adversaries charged
was politically motivated. Coffey denied that, testifying in a
1996 congressional hearing that Justice dropped the LIUNA lawsuit
because, "we never had a union that said, 'We'll take on
the mob before you file.' "
Gow recruited more than 60 former federal
agents to examine whether members had engaged in "barred
conduct" under LIUNA's rewritten ethics code. It called for
expulsion of members who had been found guilty of crimes. But
it also forbade members to assert their Fifth Amendment rights
in a criminal case or obstruct Gow's investigations. Members could
be expelled if a hearing officer determined after closed hearings
that the ethics code had been broken.
An elaborate internal justice system was
set up to provide due process. Defense attorney Luskin was
hired as chief prosecutor -- or as he put it in an interview "to
get the cockroaches out." The son of a Chicago
labor arbitrator, Luskin once worked for the Justice Department's
organized crime section and now has a Georgetown private practice.
He said the union has paid his firm about $4 million since November
As its disciplinary judge, LIUNA hired Peter
F. Vaira, a former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. To
hear appeals, it retained W. Neil Eggleston, a former White House
lawyer and House Iran-Contra committee special counsel.
LIUNA's team honed in on notoriously troubled
locals and district councils around the country.
First on the list was Buffalo's Local 210
with 1,200 members, a local whose alleged organized
crime ties worried then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in
the early 1960s. The local had not had a contested election since
1974, when John Cammilleri, a union member and alleged organized
crime associate, was gunned down after supporting an opposition
Gow's agents assembled evidence to justify
a trusteeship, a legal mechanism that allows the international
to take over a local to correct financial malpractice or undemocratic
Gow could no longer use traditional FBI tools
-- tapping telephones or reading secret grand jury testimony.
But he had help from Ronald Fino, Local 210's longtime business
agent, who was in the federal witness protection program.
Gow said of the local's history: "They
had all the common schemes -- contract rigging, no-show jobs,
kickbacks, investments going wild and kickbacks on the investments."
Local 210's officers agreed to step down
without a hearing, and Luskin appointed Gabriel Rosetti Jr., a
31-year union member from Rochester, N.Y., for a two-year stint
as supervisor. Rosetti expected a smooth transition but arrived
at the union hall on his first day -- Palm Sunday 1996 -- to find
it blocked by 200 members chanting "Gabe go home!" The
insurgents occupied the hall for three weeks until a federal judge
ordered them out. Insurgency leader John Tomasello was expelled
for leading the protest. He complained in an interview that lawyers
for the international "made it look like everybody in that
union -- especially the Italians - like they're criminals."
Some of Rosetti's tactics grew out of necessity,
officials say. He said he discovered that the union was giving
high-paid construction jobs to alleged Buffalo crime family associates.
The local's finances were a mess, but officers had been leasing
five Grand Cherokees at twice the market rate from a company in
distant Rhode Island. Rosetti cut the local's staff and reduced
the auto fleet to a single Buick Regal. But his effort to coax
new leadership out of the rank-and-file was sabotaged, he believed,
by former leaders who hoped eventually to return to power.
In early 1996, Luskin asked Vaira to eject
28 Local 210 members. Their cases were pending for 18 months,
meaning that Rosetti not only had to live with the accused, he
had to pay some of them.
Three on Luskin's list -- including Sam Capitano,
the former business manager's son -- had been elected
to $25,000-a-year advisory board positions created by Luskin.
Capitano attacked Rosetti at one meeting,
grabbing a microphone and yelling "Gabe, you got no balls."
The next day, the two got into a fistfight and Rosetti fired Capitano
from the board -- an action Capitano has contested before the
National Labor Relations Board. He is suspended from the union.
Vaira finally expelled most of the questioned
members in early April and extended the local's supervision indefinitely.
Luskin expects the local to appeal the decision in federal court.
When Gow traveled to Chicago in 1995 to investigate
the Chicago Laborers District Council, a threatening message waited on his hotel voice mail: "Who
do you think you're [expletive] dealing with? A bunch of kids
The anonymous call was a blunt reminder that the real seat of the union's power was in Chicago, LIUNA's birthplace.
The Justice Department alleged in the draft
RICO complaint that Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo, an
alleged high-ranking organized crime figure who died in 1992,
endorsed all of LIUNA's international officers. In 1989, when
Coia sought to replace his ailing father on LIUNA's executive
board, he flew to Chicago and consulted with Vincent "Innocent"
Solano, Accardo's right-hand man, according to Coia's testimony
in a 1995 lawsuit.
The Chicago District Council, the collective
bargainer for 21 locals and 19,000 workers, had been investigated
by two Senate committees and the President's Commission on Organized
Crime before the Justice Department accused it again of organized
crime ties in the draft RICO complaint.
When Gow arrived, Bruno Caruso was council
president. His father, Frank "Skids" Caruso, was described
in the RICO draf complaint as a boss of gambling and extortion
rackets. Based on Gow's work, in February hearing officer Vaira
put the council under a trusteeship and Luskin appointed Chicago
labor lawyer Robert Bloch as trustee.
Caruso, now out of a $186,000-a-year job,
believes Gow's campaign is retaliation against him engineered
by Coia, who he said sees him as a rival. He denied any criminal
ties, saying the allegations stem from Italian American stereotypes.
"Winston Churchill, he smokes a cigar,
he's astute. Other guys, they don't button their collar, they're
casual," said Caruso in an interview. "I smoke a cigar,
don't button my collar, I'm a wise guy."
Caruso argued that the "so-called reform"
would destroy the council's bargaining power in negotiating new
contracts for construction workers.
Bloch took over the negotiations this spring.
He invited representatives of all 21 locals to participate.
On May 29, after a 20-hour marathon session,
the council emerged with a contract promising major improvements
and a 35 percent pay increase.
"People are telling me this is the best
contract they've ever had," Bloch said. "It is a tangible
sign that things are really moving forward."
The challenge faced by Gow's team was nowhere
more evident than the 1996 Laborers' convention in Las Vegas,
a dazzling affair with Elvis impersonators, laser shows and swarms
of federal agents keeping tabs on LIUNA's first contested presidential
election in 25 years.
Coia was considered a shoo-in. Most members
gathering from across the country had never seen the Justice Department's
draft RICO complaint because Vaira barred dissidents from distributing
LIUNA's agreement with Justice required that
the rank-and-file vote for president by secret ballot.
Giving them someone to vote for was another
matter. Almost no one wanted to challenge Coia, who ran as a reformer.
The last attempt to oust an incumbent left
an imprint. In 1981, when dissidents tried to nominate a challenger
to run against President Angelo Fosco, then under a racketeering
indictment, they were beaten on the convention floor, according
to a report by the President's Commission on Organized Crime.
Coia's LIUNA pull dated back to his father,
Arthur Ettore Coia, the international's secretary-treasurer for
20 years. The elder Coia built LIUNA into a Rhode Island political
force while cultivating ties to Raymond L.S. Patriarca, a one-time
reputed head of New England's major crime family, according to
the draft RICO suit.
The younger Coia had moved into the top job
with little experience doing the low-paid labor of most of his members. Coia's Providence law firm, which
represents LIUNA members and trust funds in New England, has allowed
him to drive a Ferrari, play golf and breed Rottweilers. He splits
his time between Washington and Rhode Island. He is still president
of the Providence local his grandfather founded.
In 1989, LIUNA's board appointed Coia secretary-treasurer.
He was named president when Fosco died in 1993.
The draft RICO complaint alleged that he
had long associated with organized crime and conspired with the
Buffalo crime family up through 1994 to create regional training
centers in New York that were allegedly to be run by organized
crime. Coia has denied any organized crime involvement. After
some prodding, Bernard Scanlon of Long Island volunteered to run
against Coia, calling himself the "sacrificial lamb."
Chicago council President Caruso also jumped in. In the end, only
a small percentage of LIUNA's membership voted. Coia was reelected
overwhelmingly. Scanlon never rallied enough support to get on
the ballot. Caruso got 30 percent of the vote.
Stephen Goldberg, a Northwestern University
law professor who served as LIUNA's election officer, considered
the election a limited success. In a report to the Justice Department,
he wrote, "Although some progress has been made in transforming
LIUNA into a participative political democracy, that progress
is both limited and fragile." Coia may have triumphed, but
his trials are not over. He spent most of April at his own disciplinary
hearing, facing charges that he was influenced by organized crime
and took vendor kickbacks. Coia and his lawyer, Howard Gutman,
declined to comment but Coia has publicly denied the charges in
the past. Dissidents who have monitored the case worry that the
prosecutors and the judge, all paid by the union, will treat him
with kid gloves.
LIUNA officials are confident that Coia will
remain in power. Chief of staff Terence O'Sullivan said, "If
it wasn't for him, we would not be sitting here talking about
And some members say Coia's removal would
not cure union problems. Robert Brown, a local business manager
in Rochester said that if Coia steps down, his most likely successor is LIUNA Vice President Peter J.
Fosco, son of former president Angelo Fosco. A new generation
of Fosco leadership, dissidents say, would be like handing over
the Teamsters to James P. Hoffa, son of James R. Hoffa, the longtime
head of the union who disappeared in 1975. Fosco, whose father
preceded Coia as president, said in a telephone interview he supports
Coia's reform and declined to speculate on succession.
But one thing has changed. In the old days,
the Justice Department contends, no one could make it past LIUNA's
board to the presidency without first winning approval from the
This year, if the board is forced to replace
Coia, their candidate will have to pass muster with Douglas Gow
INVESTIGATING THE BIG 4
In 1986, the President's Commission on Organized
Crime recommended that the Justice Department go beyond criminal
prosecutions of union members and use the civil Racketeer Influenced
and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to make systemic union reforms.
It targeted the "big four" unions that the FBI alleged
were "substantially influenced and/or controlled by organized
crime" and in need of major cleanup. Here's a status report:
Arthur A. Coia, appointed in 1993
750,000. The union represents construction workers, mail handlers,
hazardous waste haulers, chicken pluckers and others.
LIUNA headed off a RICO suit in 1995 by promising an internal
cleanup. To date, dozens of members have been expelled, including
two former vice presidents. More than 60 members quit before their
cases resulted in disciplinary charges. Twenty-two matters have
been referred to law enforcement for prosecution.
The international has placed 30 locals and
district councils in trusteeship or under supervision. Disciplinary
charges are pending against Coia that could result in his ouster.
In 1996, for the first time, rank-and-file
members directly elected their general executive board officers
by secret ballot. Previously, convention delegates chose the president
and other officers. The three-year agreement with the Justice
Department was extended for another year in January.
1.4 million, the nation's largest union. It represents truck drivers, industrial workers,
A RICO suit against the international resulted in a 1989 consent
decree forcing the union to hold rank-and-file elections and naming
a court monitor to root out corrupt members. More than 300 members
have been expelled, 80 locals have been put into trusteeship and
$15 million in pension money has been recouped.
The reform paved the way for the 1991 election
of Ron Carey, a longtime member of Teamsters for a Democratic
Union. Carey was reelected in 1996 by a narrow margin, defeating
James P. Hoffa. But late last year, the election was overturned
in the wake of a campaign finance scandal. Carey was disqualified,
and three of his operatives pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy.
Another was recently indicted on embezzlement charges. Congress
is now investigating how a scandal erupted while the union was
under government oversight.'
Edward Hanley, in office since 1973.
300,000. It represents bartenders, housekeepers, waiters and casino
In 1995, HEREIU was put under federal supervision after the Justice
Department settled a RICO suit against an Atlantic City local.
The federal monitoring ended March 5, but a Public Review Board,
headed by former Illinois governor James Thompson, will continue
to oversee the union's internal reforms.
Forty officials, members and union associates
have been barred permanently or otherwise disciplined, but the
monitorship ended this March without a supervised election, considered
a crucial element to union reform.
On May 20, the U.S. District Court in Trenton,
N.J., unsealed a February agreement in which Hanley agreed to
retire and leave office by July 31. Hanley had been a controversial
figure. He asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination
when questioned before a presidential commission about alleged
ties to organized crime.
John Bowers, in office since 1987
65,000. It represents shipping and dock workers.
The union, which the AFL-CIO expelled for corruption in 1953 (but
reinstated in 1959), was the inspiration for the movie "On
the Waterfront." In 1990, the government filed a RICO civil
suit against six ILA locals that represented workers on the New
York and New Jersey waterfront. The suit described the influence
of Gambino family head John Gotti and Genovese family boss Anthony
"Fat Tony" Salerno.
Monitors were appointed to oversee the locals.
Nine members and officers were removed, and Bowers, who was president
of three of the locals, was barred from holding office in any
of the locals. The government has not sought to takeover the union's
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