The Washington Times

Probe of DNC union pal was killed

By Jerry Seper

A month after the Democratic National Committee told the White House that Laborers Union boss Arthur A. Coia was one of "our top 10 supporters," proposed racketeering charges against the union were dropped, and Hillary Rodham Clinton was keynote speaker at the union's annual leadership meeting.

The "top 10" listing was part of a January 1995 memo from the DNC to the White House that later served as the basis for a plan to reward big-money donors with White House perks -- including overnight stays, movies in the president's theater, coffees, golf and jogging.

The memo, by DNC Finance Chairman Terry McAuliffe, listed Mr. Coia among major Democratic Party donors touted for access to President Clinton.

A year earlier, Mr. Coia had been identified in a Justice Department memo sent to the White House as a "mob puppet."

"This will be an excellent way to energize our key people for the upcoming year," Mr. McAuliffe wrote, suggesting several White House perks for Mr. Coia and others.

A White House aide wrote "overnights" on the memo as an option to woo donors, and Mr. Clinton later suggested the plan start "right away."

A Congressional investigators probing campaign-finance abuses have reviewed the Justice Department complaint and, according to sources close to the probe, examined other documents concerning the union's ties to organized crime and its links with the White House.

Investigators want to know whether the decision to drop the complaint was tied to the union's support of Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Coia was named in the Justice Department's proposed complaint in a conspiracy to embezzle funds from union locals in New York and was accused of seeking to control the union "through a pattern of racketeering activity."

The 212-page Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) complaint also said he 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.

Government lawyers, who detailed Mr. Coia's suspected mob ties during a three-year investigation, handed the complaint to the union boss Nov. 4, 1994, serving notice that they intended to take over the union and oust its leadership.

Instead, the Justice Department signed a February 1995 consent decree to avert a trial, leaving Mr. Coia in charge of cleaning up the 400,000-member Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). The decree came a month after the DNC told the White House of Mr. Coia's "top 10" status.

White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis said there is no evidence suggesting an improper Coia link to the White House and the DNC. "If there's no evidence, there's nothing to comment on," he said.

DNC spokesman Steve Langdon said the memo was about "arranging time for the president to visit with our most generous supporters." He did not elaborate.

LIUNA spokeswoman Linda Fisher said there was "no connection" between the decision to drop the complaint and the DNC memo. "No one sought any favors, and no one offered any," she said, adding that a House Judiciary subcommittee review in January found no evidence that Justice was influenced by Mr. Coia's ties to the DNC or the White House. Justice Department officials also have denied any connection between the decision to drop the complaint and the White House and have called the self-policing plan "the finest, most practical resolution that's ever been reached in a case of alleged mob influence."

But records show the union and the Clinton administration have ties dating back to 1992, and while accusations against the union were being investigated and the Justice Department complaint was being written -- with government lawyers pressuring Mr. Coia to resign as a condition of the complaint being dropped -- he aggressively cultivated a personal relationship with the Clintons.

In 1992 the union lent $100,000 to the Clinton inaugural committee. The union later underwrote $400,000 worth of DNC "party-building activities."

The union's political action committee has contributed more than $1 million to Democrats since 1993. In 1994, Mr. Coia was host of a $1,500-a-plate fund-raiser that netted the DNC $3.5 million, and he was vice chairman of a May 1996 gala that raised $12 million for Democrats. He personally gave $1,000 to the President's Legal Defense Fund.

During a visit with Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office, Mr. Coia accepted as a gift one of the president's personal golf clubs and attended a White House dinner where Mr. Clinton played the saxophone.

At the White House's invitation, he visited Denver to see Pope John Paul II and attended a reception for the emperor of Japan.

Mr. Coia also had breakfast with Mrs. Clinton at the White House, and the first lady gave the keynote speech at the union's leadership meeting in February 1995 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.

She had been scheduled to give the keynote address at the union's 1994 meeting but declined after the Justice Department warned her off.

The warning came from Paul Coffey, head of the Justice Department's organized-crime section, who said in a January 1994 memo: "It might be prudent to recommend that [Mrs. Clinton] avoid any direct contact with Coia, if possible, inasmuch as we plan to portray him as a mob puppet."

Records show Mr. Coia visited the White House 24 times after the Coffey warning.

copyright © 1997, The Washington Times

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