By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
October 1, 1999
Arthur Coia, the president of the laborers'
union, one of the nation's largest building trades unions, has
agreed to resign in October and plead guilty to fraud charges
as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, government officials
said on Thursday.
The officials said Coia would step down in
the next few weeks and would soon after plead guilty to charges
involving his purchase of a $450,000 Ferrari from a supplier
to the 750,000-member union, the Laborers International Union
of North America. The plea agreement, one government
official said, would not result in a prison term but would bar
Coia from any future contacts with the union.
David Roscow, a union spokesman, denied that
Coia was resigning, insisting that Coia was the victim of leaks
from government officials out to hurt him. "Mr. Coia is not resigning, he has not
been indicted, and there is no agreement," Roscow said.
"For the past four years, certain law-enforcement officials
have engaged in irresponsible leaks designed to pursue their own
agenda and tarnish the union and Mr. Coia."
One government official said Coia might still
pull out of the plea agreement out of concern that he would
be stepping down under a cloud. Numerous times in the past,
union officials said, Coia was about to resign in the face of
possible charges, but then decided to dig in and battle the accusations
against him, to help preserve his reputation.
Over the last year, some aides also hinted
that Coia could retire at any time because he has been fighting
prostate cancer for three years, although his health
has improved in recent months.
The deal said to have been reached between
Coia and the government follows an anti-corruption investigation
that the union conducted under an earlier agreement
with the government. In March, the three-year investigation cleared Coia of accusations that he had associated
with members of organized crime. But at the same time, the union's hearing
officer, Peter Vaira, fined Coia $100,000 for a conflict
of interest over the purchase of the Ferrari. The union's in-house
prosecutor, Robert D. Luskin, discovered that Coia had
bought the sports car with the help of a Rhode Island company
that leased cars to the union.
Luskin found that Coia bought the car while
the car-leasing company continued to hold the title, letting
Coia avoid more than $40,000 in luxury taxes. This also enabled
Coia to resell the Ferrari, a limited edition model, as a new
vehicle three years later.
When Vaira fined Coia, the laborers' in-house
investigators turned over evidence about the car purchase
to the U.S. attorney's office in Boston. Coia has repeatedly denied
any wrongdoing regarding the car.
Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for the U.S.
attorney in Boston, declined to comment on Thursday. Luskin also
declined to comment about Coia's plea deal, which
was reported on Thursday by The Daily Labor Report published
by the Bureau of National Affairs, a private research group
Coia's father, Arthur E. Coia, was secretary-treasurer
of the union, which used to be considered one of
the nation's most corrupt. Prosecutors say the elder Coia associated
closely with Raymond Patriarca Jr., New England's
long-time crime boss.