The media found the debate between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio entertaining, although Lazio was criticized for being too aggressive. But he never brought up the most potentially damaging charge of all—Mrs. Clinton’s relationship with a top labor leader once considered linked to the mob.
Arthur Coia, president of the Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA), was described by organized crime investigators in the Justice Department as being a mob puppet. Coia was a frequent guest at the White House, traveled with President Clinton on Air Force One several times, and they exchanged gifts. The Justice Department in 1995 had drafted a racketeering lawsuit against him, but after Hillary Clinton spoke to a LIUNA convention, a decision was made to allow the union to hire its own lawyer to root out corruption. Coia stayed in his position and continued to raise huge sums for the Democrats. He was chairman of a 1996 fund-raising event that produced more than $12 million for the party.
The benefits flowed both ways. In one year alone, 1994, LIUNA received more than $11 million in federal grant money, and donated over $1 million to Democratic candidates. The Heritage Foundation documented that LIUNA received nearly $30 million in grants over two years. Recipients of LIUNA largesse included Reps. Dick Gephardt, David Bonior, Barney Frank and Steny Hoyer in the House, and Tom Daschle and Christopher Dodd in the Senate. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime held hearings in 1996 on LIUNA corruption, leading to a brief flurry of stories on the subject, but Washington Post labor reporter Frank Swoboda portrayed the hearings as a Republican-inspired plot.
The Reader’s Digest published a detailed article by Eugene H. Methvin on White House ties to Coia, entitled, “The Clintons and the Union Boss.” The White House refused to answer questions from Reader’s Digest about the president’s knowledge of LIUNA’s Mafia connections or the Justice Department’s investigations and negotiations of the union’s fate. It’s time for Hillary to be asked similar questions.
Ultimately, Coia was forced to retire, with his pension intact, after it was discovered he had engaged in mail fraud and had cheated local and state authorities out of $100,000. He pleaded guilty to criminal tax fraud. Nevertheless, Coia’s influence continues to be felt. He played a key role in getting John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union elected as AFL-CIO president in 1995. “No unelected union president was more decisive in Sweeney’s election than Arthur Coia…” noted Robert Fitch, writing in The Nation, a pro-union magazine. In return, Sweeney made Coia head of the AFL-CIO’s organizing department. In his own book, America Needs a Raise, Sweeney mentions Coia’s role in AFL-CIO organizing campaigns but not his alleged criminal ties.
Officials of LIUNA were among those indicted on charges of bribery, bid-rigging or other racketeering schemes on September 7th.
The 57-count indictment was issued by the local Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau against 38 union bosses, contractors and reputed mobsters, including the reported head of the Luchese crime family. It’s time for the media to probe this corrupt union’s political ties.