Coia Resigns, Gets $335,000 a Year, No Plea Deal Cited

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On Sep. 30, the Bureau of Nat'l Affairs reported that Laborers' Int'l Union of No. Am. president Arthur A. Coia -- who has been repeatedly accused of organized crime ties by the Dep't of Justice -- would plead guilty to a felony for an improper association with a union vendor and that Coia would be forced by DOJ to resign as part of plea.  On Dec. 6, Coia -- a personal and political friend of Bill Clinton -- resigned effective Jan. 1. There was no report of any plea or that DOJ had any role in the resignation.

Coia had a conflict in his dealings with car dealer Carmine Carcieri, who helped him avoid taxes on his purchase of a $450,000 Ferrari. At the time, the dealership held LIUNA's car-leasing contract, worth over $1 million a year. In a controversial and LIUNA-funded "trial," Coia was slapped with a $100,000 fine, but was dubiously cleared of several more serious charges, such as alleged ties to organized crime. DOJ openly criticized the "trial" of Coia and LIUNA's failure to oust him, and DOJ reportedly opened an investigation of his Carcieri dealings.

Coia's attorney, Howard Gutman, LIUNA and DOJ either denied or refused to comment on whether DOJ had a role in the resignation or if DOJ's probe is ongoing. But, the Providence J.-Bull. reported that DOJ's John Russell said DOJ knew of the terms of Coia's resignation. Further, one source close to LIUNA's failed "internal reform effort," when asked if there was a quid pro quo for Coia's retirement, told BNA that it would be "hard to imagine why [Coia] would step down without some reassurance from [DOJ]" such as a plea deal. In Coia's circumstances, the source said why, from a legal perspective, would Coia decide to retire "if he did not have a signed commitment from the government of what he would get in return" for resigning. Asked about the timing of Coia's announcement, another BNA source said the announcement date was affected by the report first published by BNA which "likely dragged this thing out." Absent the media reports, he speculated, that the announcement would have been made sooner and perhaps would have been "more graceful." In Oct., Coia angrily accused DOJ of leaking incriminating information about his possible resignation/guilty plea.

Coia will become "general president emeritus," drawing the equivalent of his $335,516-a-year salary for life. Without the new title, he would have gotten less.  LIUNA's last convention in 1996 rewrote LIUNA's constitution to let its board raise Coia's pay at any time. The board used that power in 1998 to give him a 34% raise, to $335,516. His pension is based on that amount. "This is a golden parachute" for "a guy who is stepping down under a cloud," said Alex Corns, a dissent leader in Cal. "[Coia's] left this union in a shambles. He got the Ferrari and the membership is being asked to pay him $300,000...for the rest of his life?...That's insane." Corns also criticized DOJ for permitting the lucrative deal. Russell declined to comment on why DOJ permitted it.

Long-time Coia lieutenant, Terence M. O'Sullivan was selected Dec. 5 as Coia's replacement by LIUNA's board that is dominated by Coia allies. O'Sullivan's father was a secretary-treasurer of LIUNA. He has served as Mid-Atlantic regional manager and Coia's assistant. He was also a vice-president and board member. He lives in Va. and will serve out this presidential term which expires in 2001. "It's good news that Coia is getting out of the union. Unfortunately, O'Sullivan is not the kind of reformer that the reformers want," said Jim McGough, leader of the dissent group, Laborers for Justice, based in Chicago.

LIUNA's board also selected Joseph Licastro and Steven Hammond as vice presidents. Licastro also took O'Sullivan's Mid-Atlantic post. Hammond is an ex-special assistant to Coia. He also ran two rocky trusteeships for Coia -- Mason Tenders Dist. Council in N.Y.City and Local 210 in Buffalo. Hammond replaces Peter J. Fosco who was ousted on corruption allegations in Oct. [BNA, N.Y. Times, Newsday, Providence J.-Bull. 12/7/99, Engineering News-Rec. 12/13/99]