- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2000

It's official. Arthur A. Coia, the former president of a labor union who raised millions of dollars for Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the Democratic Party, is now a convicted felon and big-time tax cheat, too. Coia pleaded guilty in federal court last week to a felony charge that he defrauded taxpayers in Rhode Island of nearly $100,000 in taxes that were due on three Ferrari sports cars worth more than $1.7 million, including one for which Coia paid more than $1 million.
Just as the Clinton Justice Department negotiated a sweetheart deal in 1995 for Coia himself to root out the mobsters controlling the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA), which he served as general president, the Justice Department gave Coia another sweetheart deal to resolve his tax fraud. The feds could have put Coia in prison for five years and fined him $250,000. But they slapped his wrist. Instead of hard time, Coia got two years probation. Instead of the $250,000 fine, Coia will pay a puny $10,000. He also must pay $100,000 in restitution to Rhode Island, although he was assessed no interest or penalty charges. In other words, the taxpayers of Rhode Island have, in effect, given Coia, who earned $335,000 as LIUNA's president, an interest-free loan.
The 56-year-old Coia retired as president Jan. 1. He angrily denied his retirement had anything to do with the monumental conflict-of-interest arrangement he exploited with a union vendor, Viking Inc., an auto dealership that reaped millions of dollars from the union for leasing cars to LIUNA officials. As it happens, last March a union hearing officer in the union's anti-corruption unit found Coia guilty of conflict of interest and imposed a $100,000 fine.
Coia "engaged in an extensive scheme to cheat Rhode Islanders" of $100,000 in taxes, U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said. "He spent well over a million dollars on Ferrari automobiles, but repeatedly found ways to shirk his duty to pay his taxes." In one of several schemes, Coia paid $215,000 for a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB4. Then he had Viking issue him an invoice indicating he paid only $2,160. Rather than the $15,050 in sales taxes he owed, Coia paid Rhode Island only $151.20. For seven years, including three years LIUNA was being investigated for corruption, Coia had the audacity to register fraudulently a $1.05 million 1972 Ferrari Daytona in Middletown, Conn., which had lower taxes on car purchases than his residence city of Barrington, R.I., where the car was kept. That cute little gambit defrauded Barrington of $58,000.
Coia was forced out of LIUNA as part of the plea-bargaining process. Indeed, Coia's deal bans him from holding any position of power in LIUNA for life. And it prohibits him from being an employee of any other union for five years. But the deal does not require Coia to relinquish his presumably powerless position as "general president emeritus" of LIUNA, which will permit him for the remainder of his life to continue receiving his $335,000 salary, which the union's board helpfully increased by 34 percent last year. Call it a parting gift from the Justice Department to one of President Clinton's best friends.
Not everybody is happy with the deal, however. Alex Corns, a LIUNA member, took exception to Coia's lifetime financial windfall. "This is a golden parachute" for "a guy who is stepping down under a cloud," Mr. Corns told the Providence Journal-Bulletin. "He's left this union in a shambles. He got the Ferraris, and the membership is being asked to pay him $300,000 or $400,000 [a year] for the rest of his life? Members who have to go to the bathroom in little wooden outhouses because we can't negotiate decent working conditions?" Maybe that's the origin of "workers of the world unite" how else could they afford the likes of Coia?

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