DOJ Extends, Weakens, Controversial Agreement

On Jan. 8, the U.S. Dep’t of Justice and the Laborers’ Int’l Union of No. Am. announced the second one-year extension of the controversial 1995 Operating Agreement that resulted from DOJ’s 1994 draft RICO complaint. The Agreement is now scheduled to terminate Jan. 31, 2000. The National Legal and Policy Center, a union corruption watchdog, reiterated its previous demands that DOJ: 1) remove Arthur A. Coia as LIUNA General President, 2) replace Robert D. Luskin as LIUNA’s “in-house prosecutor,” and 3) impose the full terms of the pending Consent Decree thereby allowing court-appointed officials to clean up LIUNA and stopping LIUNA from “cleaning up itself.”

“The so-called LIUNA ‘internal reform effort’ is a failure. DOJ has placed a great deal of trust in the independence and effectiveness of the ‘internal reform effort,’ but the fact is Luskin and the ‘reform’ team are not independent and are not as effective as a court-appointed team would be,” said NLPC President Peter Flaherty. “Luskin’s $245,000 forfeiture to the federal government in May 1998 for his ‘willful blindness’ in accepting mob money-laundering profits was a virtual admission of guilt and is proof that he shouldn’t be trusted to rid LIUNA of organized crime.”

The Extension actually went backwards. DOJ capitulated on two issues.

1) DOJ must now allow the “internal reform effort” to curtail its efforts to accommodate LIUNA’s “budgetary constraints” and “need to maintain other programs and services,” thus allowing LIUNA to limit the resources of the “internal reform effort,” which many LIUNA dissidents claim is under-funded and under-staffed already.

2) DOJ can no longer impose the Consent Decree if it believes it is “necessary and desirable” to do so.  Now the Consent Decree can only be imposed if DOJ “reasonably concludes that the failure to [do so] would substantially interfere with accomplishing the purposes of the Agreement,” thus making the imposition of the Consent Decree more complicated and remote.

A further shortcoming of the extension is that it is only for one year. LIUNA is far from corruption-free.  Even U.S. Attorney Scott R. Lasser admitted, “additional time is needed to complete efforts to eliminate corruption from the union.” At the current snail’s pace of the “internal reform effort,” it could take another ten to fifteen years before the corruption is reduced to an acceptable level.  By extending the Agreement a mere year, DOJ leaves the door open for LIUNA’s slick legal team, led by Luskin and LIUNA general counsel Michael S. Bearse, to weasel out of the Agreement next year. The fact that DOJ capitulated on two fronts in this extension shows that DOJ is weakening.  Further, the fact that the Clinton Adminstration is coming to a close may provide LIUNA a reason to “get while the getting is good.” Lastly, it’s expected that once Coia is exonerated of all wrongdoing, slapped on the wrist or given a platinum parachute to leave LIUNA in the coming weeks or months under pending corruption charges, LIUNA will argue it should be free from the impending Consent Decree for good.

Chicago Boss’ Gambling Trial Starts
Ex-boss of LIUNA Local 225 in Chicago, Joseph Abate, went on trial Jan. 12 for gambling. Allegedly, he made $12,000 a week from a racket run from his home. Police raided Abate’s home in Mar. 1998 seizing $200,000 in bets. Only after his indictment was he suspended from his $90,000 union job, which was reportedly under federal investigation for alleged mob ties. [Chicago Sun-Times 1/14/99]