Laborers' Leader Says Accusations Are False

New York Times October 28, 1997


Arthur Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, notified his union's executive board Monday that the laborers' in-house prosecutor had decided to bring charges against him, but he said he was innocent of all allegations.

Coia did not describe the charges,but federal officials said last week that the prosecutor, Robert Luskin,would accuse him of associating with members of organized crime,of acquiescing in letting mobsters run parts of the union and of receiving favors from service providers.

At a meeting of the union's board in Washington, Coia read a statement that he later made public."There is no truth in the allegations," Coia said in the statement. "I am the man I say I am."

Coia faces charges in an unusual arrangement in which the government agreed, as part of the process of cleaning up the long-corrupt union, to let in-house investigators and an in-house prosecutor carry out the housecleaning."Do I believe in this reform, now that I am its target?" Coia asked. "Does this board believe in it, now that we are sorely tested? Today, for each of us, that answer must be yes."

Some federal officials had said Coia might resign even before charges were brought, rendering the investigation moot. But he indicated Monday that he would stay and fight the charges, which will be brought before an in-house judge, Peter Vaira. Federal officials say they expect Luskin to bring the charges before Friday.

Coia said that some friends "advise me to pursue my career as a labor attorney, a path that would offer far higher financial rewards, far less personal stress and far less private pain."

But he said the most important thing was to establish the truth. "I therefore have only one choice and that is to stand for this truth. That is the legacy I choose to leave my union, my family, my children and grandchildren, the legacy of a man who fought for what he knew to be true."

Coia did not hide some bitterness about the investigation. "I never asked for, I never expected, I never wanted special treatment or consideration," Coia said. "And Lord knows,as you know, I never got it. You know about the investigations, the depositions, the countless questions, the endless examinations, the smallest detail of my personal life dissected, every action disputed, every motive distrusted. That has been my lot as your leader, and I have accepted it."

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