- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Arthur A. Coia, former embattled president of the powerful laborers union and a longtime confidant of President Clinton and New York Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, has lost his law license for two years because of his guilty plea to income tax fraud.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, in a November ruling made public last week, issued the suspension after refusing a request by Coia that he be given a lesser penalty of a public censure meaning no loss of his license to practice law.

Coia, who raised millions of dollars for Mr. Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and the Democratic Party, pleaded guilty in federal court earlier this year to a felony charge of defrauding Rhode Island taxpayers of nearly $100,000 in taxes he owed on three Ferrari sports cars.

U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said Coia "engaged in an extensive scheme to cheat Rhode Islanders" of $100,000 in taxes, repeatedly finding ways to "shirk his duty to pay his taxes."

Prosecutors said that in one of several schemes, Coia paid $215,000 for a 1973 Ferrari, but conspired with a union vendor, Viking Inc., an auto dealership that leased vehicles to Coia's Laborer's International Union of North America (LIUNA), to issue him an invoice showing he paid only $2,160.

Rather than the $15,050 in sales taxes he owed, prosecutors said Coia paid only $151.

Coia resigned as head of LIUNA on Jan. 1. In March, a hearing officer in an anti-corruption case involving the union found Coia guilty of a conflict of interest and fined him $100,000.

Although he resigned as president, Coia remains as "general president emeritus" of LIUNA with an annual salary of more than $250,000.

Coia also was the focus of an extensive investigation by Washington lawyer Robert D. Luskin, a former Justice Department prosecutor hired by the union in 1997 as part of a 1995 consent decree to head the cleanup of LIUNA.

Mr. Luskin pursued accusations that Coia was tied to organized crime, allowed mobsters to control the union and received favors from companies that received union business.

He eventually brought 16 charges against Coia all but one of which were overturned by the hearing officer, Peter Vaira, who said there was not enough evidence to prove the accusations. Mr. Vaira allowed the conflict charge to stand.

A 1994 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint said Coia was tied to members of a New England crime family and used "force, violence and fear of physical and economic injury to create a climate of intimidation and fear" within the union. The complaint accused Coia of a conspiracy to embezzle funds from locals in New York.

A decision to drop the complaint came a month after the DNC identified Coia in a memo as one of its "top 10 supporters." The memo, sent to the White House, served as the basis for a plan to reward big-money donors with White House perks. The memo, by DNC Finance Chairman Terry McAuliffe, listed Coia among Democratic Party donors touted for access to Mr. Clinton.

While Justice Department lawyers were pressuring Coia in 1994 to resign as a condition of the complaint being dropped, he was successfully cultivating a relationship with the Clintons through former New York labor lawyer Harold Ickes, then the White House deputy chief of staff.

A year earlier, Coia was identified in a Justice Department memo to the White House as a "mob puppet."

Despite the warning, Coia visited Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office several times.

On one visit, Coia accepted as a gift one of the president's personal golf clubs. Coia also was instrumental in helping raise $12 million for Democrats during a black-tie affair in 1996. In 1995, Mrs. Clinton was the featured speaker at the union's annual convention in Miami.

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