Coia Suspended From Law Practice in Rhode Island

Arthur A. Coia, ex-boss of the Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am., was suspended from the practice of law for two years by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in an opinion dated Nov. 20 because he engaged in “a serious crime involving dishonesty.” The court declined to issue a lesser penalty that Coia requested–a public censure that would have meant no interruption of his license to practice law. The suspension stems from a Coia’s guilty plea in Jan. 2000 to a criminal charge of tax fraud associated with the purchase of three Ferraris. Coia was sentenced to two years probation, ordered to pay restitution of nearly $100,000, and subjected to a $10,000 fine.

The court said while Coia’s conviction does not involve any actions in his capacity as an attorney, it expects “that all attorneys in this state shall at all times comport themselves in accordance with state and federal criminal laws.” The court continued, Coia’s “admitted illegal conduct warrants the imposition of professional discipline by this Court.”

Under the suspension, Coia is not entitled to receive any income from his firm, Coia & Lepore. The court’s chief disciplinary counsel, David D. Curtin, says that he would like to see Coia’s name removed from the firm.

When the court began considering whether to disbar Coia last summer, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) and others urged leniency. Kennedy wrote the court, on official congressional stationery: “In his dealings with people in the public realm, [Coia] conducts himself with an impressive level of integrity.” Kennedy called him “a credit to the Rhode Island Bar” and urged the court to consider “the totality of Mr. Coia’s contributions to society.”

The letters, among nearly two dozen written by politicians, lawyers, businessmen, and clerics, helped convince the court not to disbar Coia, as Curtin had sought. Curtin criticized Coia for trying to “downplay the significance of his conduct” and called it a “scam” “motivated by personal greed, and executed with guile.” Curtin added, “His conduct is a calculated plan, and not an anomalous act in an otherwise unblemished career.”

Kennedy’s support reveals a political friendship cemented by the millions of campaign dollars that Coia and LIUNA have given to Kennedy and the Democratic Party. Since Kennedy took over as chairman of the DCCC in 1998, LIUNA has donated $278,000 to the DCCC. LIUNA has donated over $2 million to Democratic causes since 1998. Coia has also provided Kennedy with fundraising advice and contacts. According to Kennedy chief of staff Anthony Marcella, Kennedy still seeks Coia’s counsel on fundraising and other issues, and considers him a friend. [Providence J.-Bull.; BNA 11/29/00]

Brown Univ. Prof. Darrell West, an expert on political fundraising and a biographer of Kennedy, called it “rather shocking” that Kennedy would “embrace Coia as closely as he has.” “Arthur Coia has been the target of various investigations; he has controversy written all over him,” West said. “There’s at least the appearance that Kennedy and the Democrats have leaned heavily on Coia for fundraising. This guy has delivered big-time for Kennedy, so he’s in the tent.”

Ohio Clerk Sentenced for $194,000 Theft
Leslie S. King, a former clerk for the Carpenters Union Hosp. Fund in Cleveland was sentenced Nov. 30 to a mere 14 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $194,000 from the fund.  According to Asst. U.S. Atty. Thomas J. Gruscinski, King pled guilty to embezzling the money between July 1999 and Apr. 2000 by submitting false reimbursement claims for medical procedures she never underwent. King then reportedly used the union fund’s computer to issue checks to herself. King pled guilty to one count of theft from an employee benefit plan and will serve three years of probation upon her release. She will also reimburse $194,138. [Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 12/1/00]