Bill Clinton's memoir will hit bookstores later this month, but one story you're not likely to read in its pages involves Clinton's friendship with Arthur A. Coia. The debonair former president of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) was one of the Democratic Party's biggest contributors when Clinton was in office. In the first four years of the Clinton administration alone, LIUNA gave $4.8 million to Democrat candidates and the Democratic Party. Although Clinton had contact with Coia no fewer than 120 times, their association is an awkward memory for the former president given the latter's ties to organized crime and that of the union he once headed.
In 1986, President Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime identified LIUNA as one of the "bad four" -- the most corrupt unions in the nation -- along with the Teamsters, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers, and the International Association of Longshoremen. According to Congressional testimony by the FBI, each of these union's presidents at the time had been "handpicked by La Cosa Nostra." Angelo Fosco, who served as LIUNA president from 1975-1993, won reelection while he was under federal indictment for union racketeering -- a victory won through "the use of force and threats of violence against potential competitors," according to the Reagan Crime Commission.
And Coia was no exception. He became secretary treasurer of LIUNA in 1987, the No. 2 job in the union, with the blessings of the Chicago mob, according to Coia's own admissions in sworn testimony. When Clinton tried to reward Coia for his political contributions by appointing him to a prestigious presidential commission, the Council on Competitiveness, the appointment set off alarm bells at the FBI. In a memo, investigators doing a background check wrote, "Coia is a criminal associate of the New England Patriarca organized crime family." The bureau also warned the White House that "within the next several weeks" the Department of Justice "will accuse Coia of being a puppet of the LCN (La Cosa Nostra)." Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis even tried calling the White House to warn officials not to get too close to the alleged mob-controlled union boss -- to no avail.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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