January 21, 2000
The Justice Department and
the Laborers Union, after more than four years of negotiations,
have signed an agreement to end government oversight of the beleaguered
union and eliminate the threat of a takeover by court-appointed
The agreement, effective Feb.
1, was hailed yesterday by union officials as "historic and
precedent-setting" and described as a "clear acknowledgment"
by the government that the "union's internal reforms have
been effective in ridding the influence of organized crime and
Terence M. O'Sullivan, the
union's new president, said the agreement would help the union
build an organization "that is more open and responsive to
Assistant Attorney General
James Robinson, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division,
said the new agreement is designed to guarantee that an internal
reform program approved by the department will continue through
Mr. Robinson said union officials
will be required to keep internal anti-corruption programs intact
through the union's scheduled elections in 2001 and the government
has reserved the right to challenge any changes in the programs
During a Justice Department
press conference, Mr. Robinson noted the reform program had accounted
for the ouster of 220 union officials, including 127 who were
identified as members or associates of organized crime. He also
said the union had imposed trusteeships or supervision on 42 locals
in an effort to combat the influence of organized crime.
He said the internal reform
program had been so effective that none of the people identified
by the Justice Department in a proposed 1995 lawsuit against the
union as members or associates of organized crime now held any
position within the union, including its former president, Arthur
A. Coia, who resigned Dec. 31.
While giving credit to what
he said was the overall success of the union's reform program,
Mr. Robinson acknowledged that a "major development"
in the negotiations was "significant changes" in the
Under the 1995 consent decree,
the Justice Department retained the right to prosecute union officials
and seize control of the union if dissatisfied with the internal
cleanup promised by Mr. Coia. The decree allowed the union to
avoid having a racketeering complaint filed, which named Mr. Coia
in a conspiracy to embezzle funds from union locals in New York
and accused him of seeking to control the union "through
a pattern of racketeering activity."
The 1994 Racketeering Influenced
and Corrupt Organizations Act complaint said Mr. Coia was tied
to members of a New England crime family and used "force,
violence and fear of physical and economic injury to create a
climate of intimidation and fear" within the union. The complaint
accused Mr. Coia of a conspiracy to embezzle funds from locals
in New York.
Mr. Coia had been the focus
of an extensive investigation by Washington lawyer Robert D. Luskin,
a former Justice Department prosecutor, who was hired by the union
in 1997 as part of a 1995 consent decree to head the cleanup of
the Laborers Union.
Mr. Luskin - asked to pursue
accusations that Mr. Coia was tied to organized crime, allowed
mobsters to control the union, and received favors from companies
that received union business - eventually brought 16 charges against
Mr. Coia. All but one were overturned by a hearing officer, Peter
Vaira, who said there was not enough evidence to prove the accusations.
The one remaining charge was
related to Mr. Coia's purchase of a $450,000 Ferrari. The title
was held by the car agency, allowing Mr. Coia to avoid $40,000
in luxury taxes and to sell the vehicle as new three years later.
The union boss was fined $100,000 by Mr. Vaira in the purchase,
although the matter later was turned over to the U.S. Attorney's
Office in Boston.
The Laborers International Union of North America has more than 800,000 members, mostly in the construction, environmental cleanup and maintenance industries.