ROBERT D LUSKIN
1025 THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET N W
SUITE 420 EAST
WASHINGTON D C 20007-5201
TELEPHONE (202) 625-1200
TELECOPIER: (202) 625-1230
September 30, 1998
Editor and Publisher
The Weekly Standard
1150 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dear Mr. Kristol:
I am writing in response to Eugene Methvin's
article, "A Corrupt Union and the Mob," published in
the Weekly Standard on August 31, 1998. I have read worse articles
and more unfair ones, but not many, and not much worse.
Mr. Methvin's central thesis is that the
agreement between LIUNA and the United States,in which the Justice
Department agreed to forego court supervision over LIUNA so long
as the union took the initiative to purge itself of mafia influence,
was "an illicit alliance in which the Mafia-dominated union
provided multimillion-dollar campaign contributions and Justice
Department racket-busters were shackled."
The problem with this allegation is not merely
that it is false, but that it was thoroughly investigated and
publicly discredited following six months of investigation, weeks
of inflammatory allegations, and two days of public testimony
before the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee
in 1996. Following the hearings, one of the few points of agreement
between the Subcommittee majority and the minority was the complete
absence of any evidence of any political influence in the Justice
Department's decision to settle its draft RICO complaint against
LIUNA on terms that imposed on LIUNA the primary responsibility
for a cleanup.
Methvin's suggestion that there was "confidential
information that federal prosecutors had been thwarted in their
investigation" and that "subcommittee Democrats blocked
subpoenas to compel testimony from witnesses who might have revealed
the "fix" is Methvin's own malicious fantasy. The majority
report of the Subcommittee's investigation harshly criticizes
the White House for its contacts with LIUNA General President
Arthur Coia, but makes no mention of a "fix," or "confidential
information" or "blocked subpoenas," precisely
because there were none. What is left is only Methvin's wishful
Equally false, and far more personally repugnant,is
Methvin's accusation that "from the start" I have "seemed
to drag [my] feet" as GEB Attorney, responsible for prosecuting
organized crime corruption uncovered by the union's Inspector
General. The implication - as false as it is defamatory - is that
I have deliberately acquiesced in continued mafia influence over
LIUNA and its affiliates.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Through the reform process, and with constant scrutiny by the
Justice Department, the union has made extraordinary strides to
rid itself of organized crime corruption. By any objective measure,
the LIUNA reform process has worked at least as well and just
as quickly as more costly and intrusive forms of government intervention.
Of the scores of individuals identified by the government in its
draft RICO complaint as members or associates of organized crime,
only Arthur Coia, who is currently facing charges before the LIUNA
Independent Hearing Officer, holds a position of responsibility
or trust at any level of the union or any fund affiliated with
LIUNA. Every other individual named by the government in
1994 has left under the threat of charges, agreed in writing to
leave the union permanently, or been forcibly removed through
the disciplinary process. Dozens of other individuals were removed
from office, expelled from the union, or forced to resign under
pressure. More than two dozen LIUNA affiliates, representing more
than 68,000 members - including mob-dominated locals and district
councils in New York City, Buffalo, and Chicago - were placed
under supervision or trusteeship, their affairs conducted by officials
selected with the approval of the Department of Justice.
Ron Fino, whose testimony before the Crime
Subcommittee forms the dramatic center of Methvin's piece, himself
rejected any suggestion of an "illicit alliance" to
perpetuate mafia influence in LIUNA. Far from supporting such
a preposterous allegation, as Methvin falsely states, Mr. Fino
testified before the Crime Subcommittee that the Inspector General
and I were persons of "integrity" and "ability"
who could be trusted to pursue any accusations of wrongdoing and
to remove any official guilty of criminal activity. Transcript
of Proceedings, July 24, 1996, at 67-68, 78-79. For reasons fully
supported by the results that we have secured, Fino declared himself
a supporter of the reform process and made clear that he had personally
cooperated with our efforts. Ibid.
It would, unfortunately, require a response
fully as long as Methvin's article to address each of the lies,
distortions, and misstatements of the public record that he relies
upon to prove his half-baked thesis. Fortunately, it only takes
a few to lend the full flavor of Methvin's work:
Methvin complains that the reform process is inherently flawed
because the GEB Attorney lacks "power to subpoena witnesses,"
"reports to Coia instead of to a federal judge," and
"has kept rank-and-file Laborers largely in the dark."
In fact, the Inspector General and the
GEB Attorney have full power to subpoena
any member or employee of any LIUNA affiliate and any union service
provider; we have used that authority aggressively to uncover
wrongdoing, and the Independent Hearing Officer has expelled numerous
union members for failing to honor subpoenas. While a court-supervised
monitor would also have authority to apply to a court for a subpoena
to third parties with no union affiliation, that power is essentially
an empty one: third parties can (and, in real life, do) assert
their Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify without any risk
of sanction by a court monitor or a court.
Contrary to Methvin's assertion, the GEB
Attorney does not report to Coia or to any other individual within
the union. As Methvin well knows, the LIUNA Constitution was amended
in January 1995 to delegate complete authority and full autonomy
to the GEB Attorney and the Inspector General. While the Inspector
General and the GEB Attorney do report regularly and directly
to the Justice Department officials responsible for oversight
of LIUNA, the elected officials of LIUNA, including President
Coia, learn of their actions at the same time as every other union
member: when they are publicly announced. Under the agreement,
Justice Department officials have the power at any time and for
any reason to remove any or all of the independent officers; by
contrast, no union official, including President Coia, has the
power to reverse or even appeal their decisions.
Union members have been fully and painstakingly
informed about the progress of reform. The record of every completed
disciplinary and trusteeship action - including all evidence and
transcripts - is available for review by every union member. It
is a right with which Methvin is personally well-acquainted, since
he was permitted to review all of these records himself - even
though he is not a union member - before preparing an earlier
hatchet job for the Readers' Digest. The opinions of the Appellate
Officer are bound, printed, and widely distributed. Detailed accounts
of every pending charge, complaint for trusteeship, settlement
agreement, and all decisions by the Independent Hearing Officer
and the Appellate Officer are published in each issue of the Laborer
magazine, which is mailed to every union member.
the suggestion that I deliberately delayed actions against mob-dominated
affiliates in Buffalo and Chicago is disgracefully false. It is
not true that "[[m]ore than a year elapsed before [Luskin]
prosecuted Fino's Local 210 in Buffalo . . . " In fact, the
Complaint for Trusteeship was filed ten months after my appointment
as GEB Attorney. During that period - and from a standing start
- the Inspector General developed proof of mob control, financial
malpractice, and abuse of the democratic process over a 25-year
period, and he corroborated many of the allegations by Ron Fino
on which Methvin relies. The evidence we developed over those
ten months, while simultaneously defeating well-financed court
challenges to the reform process brought by Local 210 and other
targets of the cleanup, produced a quick capitulation by
the leadership of Local 210 and laid the
groundwork for the permanent expulsion of more than 20 former
local union leaders.
Similarly, the Inspector General's two-year
investigation in Chicago produced a vastly more detailed and comprehensive
portrait of mob influence over the District Council than was available
to Justice Department investigators in 1994 or set out in the
draft RICO complaint. We brought the Complaint for Trusteeship
in June 1997, and concluded more than 19 days of hearings, involving
45 witnesses and more than 200 exhibits in the fall. The timing
of the Independent Hearing Officer's decision to impose the trusteeship
bore absolutely no relationship to the conclusion of the three-year
agreement between LIUNA and the United States. Indeed, Methvin's
suggestion that the decision to place the Chicago District Council
under trusteeship coincided with "a belated one-year extension"
of the agreement is simply baffling. In fact, LIUNA and the Justice
Department publicly announced the extension on January 22, 1998,
three weeks before the agreement was set to expire.
The bottom line is that in less than three
years, the LIUNA reform effort has defeated the mafia in Buffalo
and Chicago (as well as in New York City and elsewhere). Although
Methvin contends that we have "dragged [our] feet,"
perhaps the best benchmark for how well and how quickly we moved
is that in the preceding 15 years, the best and most persistent
efforts of federal prosecutors in Buffalo and Chicago had produced
a total of one successful misdemeanor conviction and one guilty
plea of two union shop stewards in Buffalo.
The difference is this: unlike Methvin, who
feels free to rely on his imagination to fill in troublesome gaps
in the facts, federal law imposes on us and on prosecutors the
obligation to prove our charges with admissible evidence in adversary
proceedings comporting with due process. The bad news is that
due process takes time. The good news is that, unlike Methvin,
we act responsibly and support the charges we bring.
Methvin asserts falsely that I delayed bringing charges against
General President Coia until "the Justice Department threatened
to take over the union." In fact, the Justice Department
was fully apprised of the investigation of President Coia from
its inception; agreed on the scope and subjects of the inquiry;
and cooperated wholeheartedly with our efforts. No one from the
Justice Department ever threatened "to take over the union"
or to take any other action on account of the timing or outcome
of the Coia investigation. As with much of the article, Methvin's
claims are a figment of his imagination that equally and unfairly
impugn my personal integrity and that of the LIUNA reform process,
as well as the professionalism of the career federal prosecutors
who oversee the LIUNA-government agreement.
In the end, Methvin's shoddy tactics equally
ill-serve Ron Fino, the central figure of his article. Methvin's
inflammatory account of Arthur Coia "settl[ing]] into the
high life of a Laborers' president . . .[while] Fino continued
his undercover work for the FBI" is a preposterous fiction.
Fino resigned as Business Manager of Local 210 and cut all ties
with LIUNA in February 1988, and "came out" as a government
witness early in 1989. Arthur Coia did not become General President
of LIUNA until February 1993.
Methvin's account of Fino's unmasking as
a government witness is likewise fanciful. Fino was indeed confronted
by Sam Cardinale (not Sam Cardinelli, as Methvin describes), who
asked to frisk him. But the supposed dialogue that follows in
the article is straight out of Methvin's B-Movie imagination.
Displaying considerably better judgment than Methvin, Fino was
well-aware that threatening to break someone's "f-hands"
on a tape recording that might be used as a evidence in a criminal
prosecution would needlessly undermine his own credibility. He
never said the words quoted in the article or uttered any threats
We know that because the GEB Attorney carefully
reviewed and transcribed the tape and used it to help secure Cardinale's
permanent expulsion from LIUNA. The unfortunate fact is that fictitious
accounts like this of Ron Fino's activity only provide ammunition
for diligent defense attorneys who have unsuccessfully sought
for years to undermine his credibility by accusing him of furnishing
inconsistent accounts of his actions.
Methvin has long portrayed himself as staunch
supporter of the fight against organized crime. With friends like
this, one wonders, who needs enemies.
Methvin's article was a succession of lies,
low blows, and cheap shots. I take most seriously the defamatory
references to me and expect the Weekly Standard promptly to correct
its errors, admonish Methvin, and apologize for the damaging and
Robert D. Luskin
cc: Eugene Methvin
W. Douglas Gow