Criminal Coia’s Rehab Helped by Kennedy, Reed

Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) paid tribute June 15 to felon Arthur A. Coia, the corrupt ex-boss of the Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am.  Coia has been dogged by corruption charges for almost twenty-years, and the Dep’t of Justice finally got him earlier this year when he pled guilty to federal criminal tax fraud and resigned his union post (with his pension intact).  Criminal Coia was one of four union leaders honored at the dinner commemorating the 20th anniversary organization calling itself the Institute for Labor Studies & Research.

Kennedy, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Labor Committee, reportedly praised a Coia speech but later brushed aside a question about whether he was troubled by honoring a labor leader who pled guilty to a felony, according to the Providence Journal-Bulletin. Reed, who introduced Kennedy, said criminal Coia deserved the recognition because “he’s made significant contributions to the labor movement.”

Several other Democratic leaders, including R.I. Secretary of State James R. Langevin and fellow U.S. House candidate Kate Coyne-McCoy, also said they were not troubled by the criminal record of Coia.

“It’s [the Institute’s] choice who they honor,” said R.I. Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a ex-U.S. Atty, who attended. “I didn’t even know who was being honored tonight. I thought it was Kennedy who was being honored.”  While a U.S. Atty., Whitehouse forced Coia’s ex-lawyer and LIUNA “in-house prosecutor” Robert D. Luskin to forfeit $245,000 in tainted legal fees he had received from convicted money launder Stephen A. Saccoccia.

Others in the labor movement were reportedly troubled by what they viewed as a step in the rehabilitation of a corrupt union boss’s reputation.

“It’s bad for the union. It’s bad for the labor movement to reward the guy,” said Ron Nobili, business manager of LIUNA Local 665 in Bridgeport, Conn.

“It’s pitiful,” said Herman Benson, of the Ass’n for Union Democracy. “I have a high regard for Ted Kennedy but here you have a great liberal Democrat standing side-by-side with a labor leader who has been forced out of his union because of corruption charges.”

In his remarks, Coia never mentioned his legal troubles, focusing instead on the need for the unions to form allegiances with elected officials such as Reed and Kennedy and to battle the “right-wingers who hate the poor and the working people.”

R.I. Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch excused Coia’s conduct: “I don’t think you judge someone’s lifetime of achievement by what even he would admit was an error in judgment.” [Providence Journal-Bulletin  6/16/00]