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
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"
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
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