Clinton Associated With Union Head After FBI Noted Crime Ties
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton maintained a social and fund-raising relationship with the head of a union after the FBI told the White House counsel’s office the labor leader had ties to organized crime, documents show.
But a former FBI official testified Wednesday that the Laborers’ International Union, headed by Arthur A. Coia, got no special deal in its anti-corruption agreement with the Justice Department. Under the 1995 agreement, the union began to weed out alleged mob lieutenants from its ranks and hold direct elections of its officers in order to head off criminal prosecution.
Republicans began to raise questions about whether the agreement was too soft after Coia was seated at Clinton’s table at a Democratic fund-raising gala last May. Coia is on the executive council of the AFL-CIO, which plans to spend $35 million on politics this election year and opposes much of the Republican agenda.
Coia’s union contributed $1.1 million to Democratic candidates in the 1994 elections. Clinton gave Coia a golf club in a 1994 Oval Office meeting, and Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed a laborers union conference the same year.
At a politically charged hearing Wednesday by the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, Chairman Bill McCollum, R-Fla., called the Justice Department agreement ``unprecedented and historic.″
A ``dramatic change in tactics″ allowed the laborers union ``to rid itself of mob influence and left its president, Arthur Coia, to do it,″ McCollum said. He called Coia ``a major Democrat figure″ with ties to Clinton.
McCollum and other Republicans also questioned why the Justice Department had not removed Coia as union president when the agency had alleged that Coia was controlled by the mob and accused him of racketeering.
Administration officials note that the deal was hammered out by two career Justice Department prosecutors and that it has already led to the removal of, or charges against, 46 laborers union officials and members.
``There is not a single shred of evidence″ that any White House officials tried to influence the federal prosecutors, said Rep. Charles Schumer of New York, the subcommittee’s senior Democrat. ``The Republican leadership is out to get organized labor,″ he said. ``This hearing is based on innuendo and guilt by association.″
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, who was observing the hearing, said the Republicans were using it as a political weapon against organized labor. ``They’re trying to silence us and they will not succeed,″ Trumka said in an interview.
Justice Department spokesman Jim Sweeney called the hearing ``clearly a political charade.″
Schumer asked witness Jim Moody, former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigations division, whether the union’s agreement with the government was a ``sweetheart″ deal.
``No,″ Moody replied, saying it was ``different″ from the customary agreement but did not involve special treatment.
Queried by Schumer about the possibility of the Justice Department prosecutors having been improperly influenced by the White House, Moody said he believed that was impossible for each of them, as Schumer named them one by one.
In 1994, the White House counsel’s office requested a preliminary FBI review of Coia, who was being considered for an appointment by Clinton to the National Skills Standards Board, according to documents obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The FBI provided the information to the White House on Oct. 7, 1994, saying in a brief report that Coia ``is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family″ and that he was one of the subjects of an FBI criminal investigation from 1977 to 1984.
In addition, the FBI report said, Coia was currently a subject in a civil investigation by the bureau. ``It is important to note that Mr. Coia has no knowledge of this information,″ it said. ``Caution should be exercised in discussing information relating to this matter, as any disclosure of the investigation could jeopardize the investigation.″
Coia was not appointed to the presidential commission.
Later that month, on Oct. 20, Coia attended a Democratic National Committee dinner with the president, a list of correspondence released by the subcommittee shows. Coia attended a dinner at the White House a few days later.
White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn had no immediate comment on the matter. Abner Mikva, who was the White House counsel at the time, couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Mikva recently told subcommittee aides in an interview that he did not recall anyone in the White House bringing the FBI report to his attention, said a subcommittee source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The subcommittee also heard testimony by Ronald Fino, a former FBI informant and business manager for the laborers union local in Buffalo, N.Y. In a dramatic gesture, Fino was brought into the hearing room with a cloak covering his head and was hidden from public view by three partitions as he testified. The committee identified Fino by name but said he wanted to testify from behind the partitions because he didn’t want his picture taken.
``You cannot become a general president, nor an international officer of (the laborers union) without mob approval,″ Fino said. ``Its rule has always been absolute.″
Democrats and the laborers union challenged Fino’s credibility. They said he had been the paid source for a story in a supermarket tabloid, The Globe, saying that O.J. Simpson had drug links to the mob. The July 1994 cover story was titled ``O.J. Didn’t Do It!″