By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
December 7, 1999
Arthur A. Coia, the embattled president of
the laborers' union, announced his retirement Monday, two months
after several union and federal officials said he would soon step
down as part of a deal in which he would plead guilty to fraud
Coia, 56, one of President Clinton's biggest
labor supporters, said he was retiring because of illness and
because he and his family thought it was time for him to step
down. Officials with the Laborers' International Union of North
America, one of the nation's largest building trades unions, insisted
that his retirement had nothing to do with a deal with federal
Justice department officials declined to
In October, Coia angrily accused the department
of leaking incriminating information about him. Those attacks
came after newspapers reported that he would soon resign and would
plead guilty shortly afterward to charges involving his purchase
of a $450,000 Ferrari from a supplier to the 750,000-member union.
In October, a government official and a union
official said the plea would not result in a prison term but would
bar Coia from future contacts with the union, which a president's
commission described in 1985 as one of the nation's most corrupt.
In its announcement Monday, the union said
Coia would become president emeritus. He would stop serving on
the union's board, but would receive part of his salary.
In March, after a five-year investigation,
an officer of the independent union hearing cleared Coia on charges
that he had ties to organized crime. But the officer fined Coia
$100,000 for an ethics violation concerning his purchase of the
In a statement, Coia said, "For too
many years, my position in the union has caused me to be investigated
nonstop, top to bottom and inside out. For far too many years,
my entire life has been scrutinized -- every action reviewed,
every motive analyzed, every decision questioned, every good deed
Coia, who has largely recovered after grueling
bouts of Hodgkin's disease and prostate cancer, said it was time
to retire rather than continue to put his family in a secondary
Coia was a co-chairman of several fund-raisers
for Clinton, and Republicans pushed for a federal investigation
of whether the president asked prosecutors to go easy on Coia
and his union. Administration officials have denied that Clinton
asked any such favors or that they went easy on Coia.
Coia has long been one of the nation's most
flamboyant union officials. He drove a Ferrari and other luxury
cars, he had a large seaside home in his native Rhode Island,
and he loves to golf. His office just two blocks from the White
House resembled a golf pro's shop.
At the same time, he modernized his union,
making it concentrate more on organizing additional members and
improving health and safety programs. In 1995, he provided a pivotal
vote to John Sweeney when he was running for president of the
Coia's father was once secretary-treasurer
of the union and, prosecutors said, associated closely with Raymond
Patriarca Jr., New England's longtime crime boss.
The union said Monday that its board had
elected Terence M. O'Sullivan, 44, to replace Coia. O'Sullivan
was a union vice president, mid-Atlantic regional manager and
assistant to the president.
Several union officials said O'Sullivan was
chosen only after government officials rejected other candidates
backed by Coia.
Like Coia's father, O'Sullivan's father once
served as the union's secretary-treasurer. His father was indicted
in 1981 in a kickback scheme but was acquitted.
Jim McGough, director of Laborers for Justice,
a dissidents' group, said, "It's good news that Coia is getting
out of the union. Unfortunately, O'Sullivan is not the kind of
reformer that the reformers want."
The deal said to have been reached between
Coia and the government follows an anticorruption investigation
that the union conducted under an earlier agreement with the government.
The government dropped a planned a civil racketeering suit intended
to install federal supervision. Instead, the Justice Department
took the unusual step of allowing an elaborate group of union
investigators and hearing officers to carry out an internal housecleaning.
Since 1994, Coia has been a target of that
Last March, the union's hearing officer,
Peter Vaira, fined Coia $100,000 for a conflict of interest regarding
the Ferrari. The union's in-house prosecutor, Robert D. Luskin,
discovered that Coia had bought the sports car with the help of
a Rhode Island company that leased cars to the union.
Coia has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing
regarding the car. "At all times, in all ways, I have acted
with the good of the union and its members foremost on my mind
and in my heart," he said.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times