Coia Won't Testify At Hearings
House Republicans will hold hearings next
week on corruption in the Laborers' union, but without president
Arthur A. Coia.
By MIKE STANTON
and JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writers
RELATED STORIES: The Worlds of Arthur Coia
WASHINGTON -- Upcoming congressional hearings
into corruption in the Laborers' International Union of North
America won't feature the central figure of the inquiry, union
president Arthur A. Coia.
House Republicans formally announced their
timetable for the hearings of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee
on Crime -- next Wednesday and Thursday -- and said yesterday
that they won't call Coia to testify.
Some federal prosecutors and outside experts
would like to see Coia testify under oath about allegations of
mob domination of the 750,000-member Laborers'.
Coia hasn't refused to testify, nor would
his lawyers comment on whether he would be interested in appearing.
But the committee, which has debated the matter since launching
its investigation last month, apparently balked after Coia's lawyers
declined to make him available for an interview before the hearings.
Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, the committee
chairman, said he doesn't want to force the issue and won't seek
to subpoena Coia. The subpoena process requires a vote by the
committee and might be difficult to complete before the hearings
if Coia chose to resist.
McCollum is also sensitive to criticism that
these hearings have been thrown together quickly at the behest
of Speaker Newt Gingrich, as a Republican attack on President
Clinton and Coia, a prominent Democratic supporter and fund-raiser.
"I don't make too much of it,"
McCollum said of Coia's refusal to be interviewed. "It's
a tactic that attorneys may choose to use if they wish."
Unless Coia wants to testify, "we're
not trying to be dramatic and bring him up here and put him under
oath and put him up in the limelight," McCollum said. "It's
not a case of anybody trying to get anybody."
Besides, McCollum said, Coia's presence won't
be required for the committee to explore the two central questions
before it: Why the Justice Department agreed to leave Coia in
charge of the union, after identifying him as part of the problem,
and the effectiveness of his internal cleanup.
Rhode Island-born Coia, 53, was named by
the Justice Department in 1994 in a 212-page draft racketeering
complaint -- a complaint that alleged Coia's involvement in a
scheme to steer union funds to the mob. It called for
the removal of Coia and other top union officials.
The suit was never filed and, after intensive
negotiations, Coia signed a consent decree with the Justice Department
in February 1995. Under the agreement, Coia remained as president
and agreed to hire former federal prosecutors and FBI agents to
investigate suspected union wrongdoers -- including Coia.
The government also reserved the right to
take over the union anytime before February 1997 if it was not
satisfied with the internal cleanup.
The Justice Department has trumpeted the
agreement as an innovative and cost-effective means of cleaning
up corrupt unions. But McCollum said its treatment of Coia raises
valid questions -- given the allegations against
him and his political friendship with Mr. Clinton.
"The appearance would be that we've
left the fox guarding the chicken coop," McCollum said.
One of Coia's lawyers, Howard Gutman, declined
to discuss Coia's dealings with the committee or possible testimony.
At a union-sponsored briefing for reporters last week on Capitol Hill, Gutman said the Justice agreement
provided "absolutely no protection" for Coia -- from
the in-house investigators or from continuing federal investigation.
Gutman said Coia "can be and is and
has been" under investigation by the union. Coia has given
two sworn depositions to Robert D. Luskin, the ex-Justice prosecutor
whom Coia hired to prosecute union corruption cases.
Luskin said yesterday that he would have
had no objection to Coia appearing before the committee. His investigation
of Coia is continuing, he said.
G. Robert Blakey, a Notre Dame University
law professor who drafted the key racketeering statute as a Democratic
Senate staffer 26 years ago, said Coia should be asked about the allegations against him and about
his political friendship with Mr. Clinton.
"John Dean had to testify" in the
Watergate hearings during the Nixon administration, noted Blakey.
"Ollie North had to testify" during the Iran-contra
hearings under President Reagan.
"These were major issues before the
Republic," said Blakey. "Why can't Mr. Coia testify
on this issue, which is comparatively minor?"
Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal
Produced by www.projo.com and The Providence Journal Company