Laborers Union Eliminates Threat Of Fed Take Over

Associated Press Writer

JANUARY 20, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Laborers union has reached agreement with the Justice Department to loosen federal oversight, eliminating the threat of court-appointed officers taking over and cleaning house, the union said today.

Under the new agreement, effective Feb. 1, the union will have to keep internal anti-corruption programs intact through its 2001 elections and the government has the right to challenge any changes in court.

The programs have included the first direct elections of national union leaders and an ethics code enforced by independent officers who have placed locals and district councils representing 68,000 members under supervision or trusteeship, including in New York, Buffalo, New Jersey and Chicago.

The internal corruption investigations reached as high as the union's former president, Arthur Coia, who resigned Dec. 31.

"This agreement is a clear acknowledgment by the government that our union's innovative internal reforms have been effective in ridding the influence of organized crime and corruption, and in building a union that is more open and responsive to its members," said Terence M. O'Sullivan, who has replaced Coia as president.

In a news release, the union said delegates to its 2006 convention would be permitted for the first time to consider modifying internal changes that have resulted from the federal oversight arrangement.

The Laborers International Union of North America has more than 800,000 members, mostly in the construction, environmental cleanup and maintenance industries.

In the 1980s, President Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime accused the Laborers of having mob ties.

To avoid racketeering charges, the union agreed in February 1995 to weed out alleged mob lieutenants from its ranks and hold direct elections of its officers. Under that agreement, which expires Jan. 31, the Justice Department retained the right to place the union under the control of a court-appointed federal trustee.

In 1996, congressional Republicans criticized the union and the Clinton administration and questioned why the union wasn't placed into federal trusteeship.

But a House inquiry into the arrangement between the Laborers and Justice found no evidence that prosecutors were improperly influenced by the close relationship Coia had with Clinton.

Coia was cleared last year by an independent hearing officer of charges that he had ties to organized crime.

He was fined $100,000, however, for a separate ethics violation under a process established under the arrangement with the Justice Department.

That ethics violation - accepting a Ferrari in a joint arrangement with a dealer who leased cars to the union - had launched a new criminal investigation by federal officials who were disappointed Coia was not ousted from the union.

Upon his resignation, Coia said he was tired of the scrutiny of his conduct and that he believes he will ultimately be remembered for his efforts to clean up the union.

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