U.S. Holds Off On Taking Over Laborers Union
By MIKE STANTON
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
Federal prosecutors have given no indication
that they intend to take over the Laborers' International Union
or remove its leader, Arthur A. Coia, despite an agreement allowing
them to do so beginning this week, a union lawyer said yesterday.
"My understanding is that our internal
reforms are on track and moving forward unless we hear otherwise,"
said the lawyer, Robert D. Luskin.
In February, Coia signed a unique agreement
with the Justice Department giving him 90 days to demonstrate
his willingness to purge the union of longstanding corruption
and organized-crime influence.
After the 90 days, which ran out Monday,
the government can take over one of the country's largest unions
and oust Coia and other top executives, as it did with the Teamsters
union in 1989.
The Justice Department has made no move to
do so, and would not comment yesterday on its intentions. The
government can take over the union any time during the next three
years if not satisfied with Coia's reforms.
Luskin said the union has not heard from
the Justice Department, and "there's no reason to expect"
a government takeover is imminent.
Coia, who was unavailable for comment, is
preoccupied with other matters.
Earlier this week, he huddled in Washington
with other national labor leaders plotting an historic challenge
to veteran AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland. Coia, a prominent Democratic Party supporter and friend of
President Clinton, even allowed that he would be interested in
Today, as part of his new internal reforms,
Coia is expected to testify at a union disciplinary hearing in
Chicago. The hearing is for Laborers' vice president John Serpico
of Chicago, who was suspended by Coia in January for alleged organized-crime
Serpico's lawyer vows to quiz Coia about
the agreement he negotiated with the government, and about the
union leader's own alleged mob ties - allegations that surfaced
in a Justice Department draft complaint last November.
"I'd like to know how it came to pass
that the Justice Department originally sought to remove Mr. Coia,
then they turn around and say he can stay," said the lawyer,
Matthias A. Lydon.
Luskin declined comment on the hearing, calling
it an internal union matter.
Last week, the Laborers submitted an extensive
report to the government, summarizing the progress that it has
made in the last 90 days.
Luskin declined to release a copy, or discuss
"It's a document responsive to a government
request," he said. "It includes matters of disciplinary
actions that we're taking."
Previously, Luskin and Coia have hyped their
reforms, which include hiring former federal prosecutors and ex-FBI
agents to investigate corruption.
Prosecutors are reviewing the union's report
as they deliberate the Laborers' fate. But a Justice Department
spokesman, John Russell, said there is no timetable for a decision.
Russell, too, declined to release a copy
of the union's report, and he said the department would have no
Luskin said the Laborers and the Justice
Department have had discussions during the last three months about
the union's progress in fostering reform.
The government's position throughout, he
said, has been to allow the union to pursue a cleanup internally.
The February agreement between the government
and the union left Coia - whom prosecutors had threatened to remove
last fall - in charge.
As part of that threat, the government last
November sent the Laborers a draft of a civil racketeering complaint
that it put together after a three- year investigation.
The unsigned draft was never filed in court;
it surfaced only recently, as an exhibit in court battles between
Coia and other union officials over the course of reform. The
existence of the draft complaint and Coia's internal union struggles
were reported by the Journal-Bulletin on Sunday.
The draft complaint said that Coia had associated
with and been controlled by organized-crime figures, and that
the union president, who is from Providence, conspired as recently
as last year to funnel money from upstate New York locals to the
Coia denies the allegations. Luskin characterized
the draft complaint as a bargaining tool that, while raising some
legitimate concerns, was off the mark regarding Coia.
The government delivered the draft complaint
with an ultimatum that it would file it as a racketeering lawsuit
and seek a government takeover unless the union responded appropriately
within two weeks.
That led to three months of negotiations,
during which the government dropped its demand for Coia's removal.
Coia, meanwhile, suspended two vice presidents for alleged mob connections: Serpico and Samuel J. Caivano,
a longtime ally from New Jersey.
Serpico and Caivano both sued, contending
that Coia had sacrificed them to preserve his own position.
On Wednesday, Caivano and the Laborers settled
their dispute. The union dropped its disciplinary charges against
Caivano and reinstated him as vice president. In return, Caivano,
75, retired immediately and agreed to drop his lawsuit.
Luskin said the agreement will allow Caivano
to collect his full union pension.
Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company.
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