James Riddle Hoffa (born February 14, 1913 – disappeared July 30, 1975, declared dead July 30, 1982) was an American labor union leader who served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) from 1957 until 1971.
From an early age, Hoffa was a union activist and became an important regional figure with the IBT by his mid-20s. By 1952, he was national vice-president of the IBT and was its general president between 1957 and 1971. He secured the first national agreement for teamsters' rates in 1964 with the National Master Freight Agreement. He played a major role in the growth and development of the union, which eventually became the largest (by membership) in the United States with over 2.3 million members at its peak, during his terms as its leader.
Hoffa became involved with organized crime from the early years of his Teamsters work; this connection continued until his disappearance in 1975. He was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, conspiracy, and mail and wire fraud in 1964, in two separate trials. He was imprisoned in 1967 and sentenced to 13 years. In mid-1971, he resigned as president of the union as part of a commutation agreement with President Richard Nixon, and he was released later that year, although he was barred from union activities until 1980. Hoffa, hoping to regain support and to return to IBT leadership, unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the order.
Early life and family
Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana, on February 14, 1913, to John and Viola (née Riddle) Hoffa. His father, who was of German descent (now referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry), died in 1920 from lung disease when Hoffa was seven years old. His mother was of Irish ancestry. The family moved to Detroit in 1924, where Hoffa was raised and lived the rest of his life. Hoffa left school at age 14 and began working full-time manual labor jobs to help support his family.
Hoffa married Josephine Poszywak, an 18-year-old Detroit laundry worker of Polish heritage, in Bowling Green, Ohio, on September 24, 1936; the couple had met during a non-unionized laundry workers' strike action six months earlier. The couple had two children: a daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, and a son, James P. Hoffa. The Hoffas paid $6,800 in 1939 for a modest home in northwest Detroit. The family later owned a simple summer lakefront cottage in Orion Township, Michigan, north of Detroit.
Early union activity
Hoffa began union organizational work at the grassroots level through his employment as a teenager with a grocery chain, a job which paid substandard wages and offered poor working conditions with minimal job security. The workers were displeased with this situation and tried to organize a union to better their lot. Although Hoffa was young, his courage and approachability in this role impressed fellow workers, and he rose to a leadership position. By 1932, after refusing to work for an abusive shift foreman, Hoffa left the grocery chain, in part because of his union activities. He was then invited to become an organizer with Local 299 of the Teamsters in Detroit.
Growth of the Teamsters
The Teamsters union, founded in 1903, had 75,000 members in 1933. As a result of Hoffa's work with other union leaders to consolidate local union trucker groups into regional sections, and then into a national body—work that Hoffa ultimately completed over a period of two decades—membership grew to 170,000 members by 1936. Three years later, there were 420,000. The number grew steadily during World War II and through the post-war boom to top a million members by 1951.
The Teamsters organized truck drivers and warehousemen, first throughout the Midwest, then nationwide. Hoffa played a major role in the union's skillful use of "quickie strikes", secondary boycotts, and other means of leveraging union strength at one company, to then move to organize workers, and finally to win contract demands at other companies. This process, which took several years starting in the early 1930s, eventually brought the Teamsters to a position of being one of the most powerful unions in the United States.
Trucking unions in that era were heavily influenced by, and in many cases controlled by elements of, organized crime. For Hoffa to unify and expand trucking unions, he had to make accommodations and arrangements with many gangsters, beginning in the Detroit area. Organized crime influence on the IBT would expand as the union itself grew.
Hoffa's rise to power
Hoffa worked to defend the Teamsters unions from raids by other unions, including the CIO, and extended the Teamsters' influence in the Midwestern states from the late 1930s to the late 1940s. Although he never actually worked as a truck driver, he became president of Local 299 in December 1946. He then rose to lead the combined group of Detroit-area locals shortly afterwards, and advanced to become head of the Michigan Teamsters groups sometime later. During this time, Hoffa obtained a deferment from military service in World War II by successfully making a case for his union leadership skills being of more value to the nation, by keeping freight running smoothly to assist the war effort.
At the 1952 IBT convention in Los Angeles, Hoffa was selected as national vice-president by incoming president Dave Beck, successor to Daniel J. Tobin, who had been president since 1907. Hoffa had quelled an internal revolt against Tobin by securing Central States regional support for Beck at the convention. In exchange, Beck made Hoffa a vice-president.
The IBT moved its headquarters from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C., taking over a large office building in the capital in 1955. IBT staff was also enlarged during this period, with many lawyers hired to assist with contract negotiations. Following his 1952 election as vice-president, Hoffa began spending more of his time away from Detroit, either in Washington or traveling around the country for his expanded responsibilities. Hoffa's personal lawyer was Bill Bufalino.
Teamsters Union presidency
Hoffa took over the presidency of the Teamsters in 1957, at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. His predecessor, Beck, had appeared before the John L. McClellan-led U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor or Management Field in March 1957, and took the Fifth Amendment 140 times in response to questions. Beck was under indictment when the IBT convention took place, and was convicted and imprisoned in a trial for fraud held in Seattle.
Teamsters Union expelled
The 1957 AFL–CIO convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted by a ratio of nearly five to one to expel the IBT from the larger union group. Vice-President Walter Reuther led the fight to oust the IBT on charges of Hoffa's corrupt leadership. President George Meany gave an emotional speech, advocating the removal of the IBT and stating that he could agree to further affiliation of the Teamsters only if they would dismiss Hoffa as their president. Meany demanded a response from Hoffa, who replied through the press, "We'll see." At the time, IBT was bringing in over $750,000 annually to the AFL-CIO.
National Master Freight Agreement
Following his re-election as president in 1961, Hoffa worked to expand the union. In 1964, he succeeded in bringing virtually all over-the-road truck drivers in North America under a single National Master Freight Agreement, in what may have been his biggest achievement in a lifetime of union activity. Hoffa then tried to bring the airline workers and other transport employees into the union, with limited success. During this period, he was facing immense personal strain as he was under investigation, on trial, launching appeals of convictions, or imprisoned for virtually all of the 1960s.
Hoffa was re-elected, without opposition, to a third five-year term as president of the IBT, despite having been convicted of jury tampering and mail fraud in court verdicts that were stayed pending review on appeal. Delegates in Miami Beach also elected Frank Fitzsimmons as first vice-president, to become president "if Hoffa has to serve a jail term".
Hoffa had first faced major criminal investigations in 1957, as a result of the McClellan Committee. On March 14, 1957, Hoffa was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe an aide to the Select Committee. Hoffa denied the charges (and was later acquitted), but the arrest triggered additional investigations and more arrests and indictments over the following weeks. However, when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed his younger brother Robert as Attorney General. Robert Kennedy had been frustrated in earlier attempts to convict Hoffa, while working as counsel to the McClellan subcommittee. As Attorney General from 1961, Kennedy pursued a strong attack on organized crime and he carried on with a so-called "Get Hoffa" squad of prosecutors and investigators.
In May 1963, Hoffa was indicted for jury tampering in Tennessee, charged with the attempted bribery of a grand juror during his 1962 conspiracy trial in Nashville. Hoffa was convicted on March 4, 1964, and subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine. While on bail during his appeal, Hoffa was convicted in a second trial held in Chicago, on July 26, 1964, on one count of conspiracy and three counts of mail and wire fraud for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund, and sentenced to five years in prison.
Hoffa spent the next three years unsuccessfully appealing his 1964 convictions. Appeals filed by his chief counsel, St. Louis defense attorney Morris Shenker, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. He began serving his aggregate prison sentence of 13 years (eight years for bribery, five years for fraud) on March 7, 1967, at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
Appoints Fitzsimmons as caretaker president
When Hoffa entered prison, Frank Fitzsimmons was named acting president of the union, and Hoffa planned to run the union from prison through Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons was a Hoffa loyalist, fellow Detroit resident, and a longtime member of Teamsters Local 299, who owed his own high position in large part to Hoffa's influence. Despite this, Fitzsimmons soon distanced himself from Hoffa's influence and control after 1967, to Hoffa's displeasure. Fitzsimmons also decentralized power somewhat within the IBT's administration structure, forgoing much of the control Hoffa took advantage of as union president. While still in prison, Hoffa resigned as Teamsters president on June 19, 1971, and Fitzsimmons was elected Teamsters president on July 9, 1971.
On December 23, 1971, less than five years into his 13-year sentence, Hoffa was released from prison when President Richard Nixon commuted it to time served. As a result of Hoffa's previous resignation, he was awarded a $1.75 million lump sum termination benefit by the Teamsters Retirement and Family Protection Plan. This type of pension settlement had not occurred before with the Teamsters. The IBT then endorsed President Nixon, a Republican, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972; in prior elections, the union had supported Democratic nominees but also endorsed Nixon in 1960.
While Hoffa regained his freedom, the commutation from President Nixon was conditional upon that he cannot "engage in the direct or indirect management of any labor organization" until March 6, 1980. Hoffa contended that he had never agreed to any such condition. He accused senior Nixon Administration figures, including Attorney General John N. Mitchell and White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, of depriving him of his rights by imposing this condition; Mitchell and Colson both denied this. It was suspected this condition had been imposed upon Hoffa due to requests from the Teamsters' leadership, although Fitzsimmons also denied this. By 1973, Jimmy Hoffa was planning to seize the presidency of the Teamsters again.
Hoffa sued to invalidate the non-participation restriction in order to reassert his power over the Teamsters. John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon, was among those called upon for depositions in 1974 court proceedings. Dean, who had become famous as a government witness in prosecutions arising from the Watergate scandal by mid-1973, had drafted the non-participation clause in 1971 at Nixon's request. Hoffa ultimately lost his court battle, since the court ruled that Nixon had acted within his powers by imposing the restriction, as it was based on Hoffa's misconduct while serving as a Teamsters' official.
Hoffa faced immense resistance to his re-establishment of power from many corners and had lost much of his earlier support, even in the Detroit area. As a result, he intended to begin his comeback at the local level with Local 299 in Detroit, where he retained some influence. In 1975, Hoffa was working on an autobiography titled Hoffa: The Real Story, which was published a few months after his disappearance. He had earlier published a book titled The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa (1970).
Hoffa's plans to regain the leadership of the union were met with opposition from several members of the Mafia, including some who would later be connected to his disappearance in 1975. According to Dan Moldea, Hoffa had retaliated against his Mafia opponents by cooperating with investigations against them.
One of these was Anthony Provenzano, who had been a Teamster local leader in New Jersey and a national vice-president of the union during Hoffa's second term as its president. Provenzano had once been a friend of Hoffa's but had since become an enemy after a reported feud when both were in federal prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in the 1960s. In 1973 and 1974, Hoffa asked him for his support to regain his former position, but Provenzano refused and threatened Hoffa by reportedly saying he would pull out his guts and kidnap his grandchildren. Provenzano was a caporegime in the New York City Genovese crime family. At least two of Provenzano's union opponents had been murdered, and others who had spoken out against him had been assaulted.
Other Mafia figures who became involved were Anthony Giacalone, an alleged kingpin in the Detroit Mafia, and his younger brother, Vito. The FBI believes that they were positioning themselves as "mediators" between Hoffa and Provenzano. The brothers had made three visits to Hoffa's home at Lake Orion and one to the Guardian Building law offices. Their avowed purpose in meeting Hoffa was to set up a "peace meeting" between Provenzano and Hoffa. Hoffa's son, James, said "Dad was pushing so hard to get back in office, I was increasingly afraid that the mob would do something about it." James was convinced that the "peace meeting" was a pretext to Giacalone's "setting Dad up" for a hit, for Hoffa himself was getting increasingly uneasy each time the Giacalone brothers arrived.
Events of July 30
Hoffa disappeared on July 30, 1975, after going out to the meeting with Provenzano and Giacalone. The meeting was due to take place at 2:00 p.m. at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a Detroit suburb. The place was known to Hoffa; it had been the site of his son James' wedding reception. Hoffa wrote Giacalone's initials and the time and location of the meeting in his office calendar: "TG—2 p.m.—Red Fox".
Hoffa left home in his green Pontiac Grand Ville at 1:15 p.m. Before heading to the restaurant, he stopped in Pontiac at the office of his close friend Louis Linteau, a former president of Teamsters Local 614 who now ran a limousine service. Linteau and Hoffa had been enemies early in their careers but eventually became friends. By the time Hoffa left prison, Linteau had also become Hoffa's unofficial appointment secretary (he had arranged a dinner meeting between Hoffa and the Giacalone brothers on July 26, where they had informed him of the July 30 sit-down). Linteau was out to lunch when Hoffa stopped by, so he talked to some of the staff present and left a message for Linteau before departing for the Machus Red Fox.
Between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m., an annoyed Hoffa called his wife from a payphone on a post in front of Damman Hardware, directly behind the Machus Red Fox, and complained that Giacalone hadn’t shown up, and that he had been stood up. His wife told him she had not heard from anyone. He told her he would be home at 4:00 p.m. to grill steaks for dinner. Several witnesses saw Hoffa standing by his car and pacing the restaurant's parking lot. Two men saw Hoffa and recognized him; they stopped to chat with him briefly and to shake his hand. Hoffa also made a call to Linteau in which he again complained that the men were late. Linteau gave the time as 3:30 p.m., but the FBI suspected it was earlier, based on the timing of other phone calls from Linteau's office from around that time. The FBI estimated that Hoffa left the location without a struggle around 2:45–2:50 p.m. One witness reported seeing Hoffa in the back of a maroon "Lincoln or Mercury" car with three other people.
At 7 a.m. the next day, Hoffa's wife called her son and daughter, saying their father had not come home. On her way home, Hoffa's daughter claimed to have had a vision of her father, whom she was already sure was dead. He was slumped over, wearing a dark-colored, short-sleeved polo shirt. It has mystified her ever since that, while she could not have possibly known this prior to her arrival at Lake Orion, the clothing in her vision was exactly what Hoffa was wearing when he disappeared. At 7:20 a.m., Linteau went to the Machus Red Fox and found Hoffa's unlocked car in the parking lot, but there was no sign of Hoffa or any indication of what had happened to him. He called the police, who later arrived at the scene. State police were brought in and the FBI was alerted. At 6 p.m., Hoffa's son, James, filed a missing persons report. The Hoffa family offered a $200,000 reward for any information about the disappearance.
The primary piece of physical evidence obtained in the investigation was a maroon 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham that belonged to Anthony Giacalone's son Joseph. The car had been borrowed earlier that day by Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien to deliver fish. O'Brien was Hoffa's foster son, although relations between them had soured in the years preceding Hoffa's disappearance. Investigators and Hoffa's family had suspected that O'Brien had a role in Hoffa's disappearance. Keith Corbett, a former US Prosecuting Attorney, has since suggested that O'Brien would have been considered too unreliable to be entrusted with such a high-profile murder. On August 21, police dogs identified Hoffa's scent in the car.
Giacalone and Provenzano, who denied having scheduled a meeting with Hoffa, were found not to have been near the restaurant that afternoon. Provenzano told investigators that he was playing cards with Stephen Andretta, Thomas Andretta's brother, in Union City, New Jersey the day Hoffa disappeared. Despite extensive surveillance and bugging, investigators found that the Mafia members they thought were involved were generally unwilling to talk about Hoffa's disappearance even in private. On December 4, 1975, a federal investigator in Detroit said in court presided by James Paul Churchill that a witness had identified three New Jersey men had participated "in the abduction and murder of James R. Hoffa." The three men, close associates of Provenzano, were Salvatore Briguglio, his brother Gabriel Briguglio, and Thomas Andretta.
After years of investigation, involving numerous law enforcement agencies including the FBI, officials have not reached a definitive conclusion as to Hoffa's fate and who was involved. Hoffa's wife, Josephine, died on September 12, 1980, and is interred at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy, Michigan. On December 9, 1982, Hoffa was declared legally dead as of July 30, 1982, by Oakland County, Michigan Probate Judge Norman R. Barnard.
In 1989, Kenneth Walton, the Agent-in-Charge of the FBI's Detroit office, told The Detroit News that he knew what had happened to Hoffa. "I'm comfortable I know who did it, but it's never going to be prosecuted because we would have to divulge informants, confidential sources." In 2001, the FBI matched DNA from Hoffa's hair—taken from a brush—with a strand of hair found in Joseph Giacalone's car, though it is possible that Hoffa had traveled in the car on a different day.
On June 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press published the entire "Hoffex Memo," a 56-page report prepared by the FBI for a January 1976 briefing on the case at FBI Headquarters in Washington. Although not claiming conclusively to establish the specifics of his disappearance, the memo records a belief that Hoffa was murdered at the behest of organized crime figures, who regarded his efforts to regain power within the Teamsters as a threat to their control of the union's pension fund. As of 2019, digs are still periodically conducted in the Detroit area in search of Hoffa's body, though a common theory among experts is that the body was cremated.
Other accounts and speculation
In his book, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa (2004), author Charles Brandt claims that Frank Sheeran, an alleged professional killer for the mob and longtime friend of Hoffa's, confessed to assassinating him. According to Brandt, O'Brien drove Sheeran, Hoffa, and fellow mobster Sal Briguglio to a house in Detroit. He claimed that while O'Brien and Briguglio drove off, Sheeran and Hoffa went into the house, where Sheeran claims that he shot Hoffa twice in the back of the head, and that he was told Hoffa was cremated after the murder. Further, Sheeran also admitted later to reporters that he murdered Hoffa, yet, blood stains found in the Detroit house where Sheeran claimed the murder happened were determined not to match Hoffa's DNA. According to Sheeran, the first conversation he had with Hoffa was over the phone, where Hoffa started by saying, "I heard you paint houses"—a mob code meaning: I heard you kill people, the "paint" being the blood that splatters when bullets are fired into a body. The truthfulness of the book, including Sheeran's supposed confessions to killing Hoffa have been disputed by "The Lies of the Irishman", an article in Slate by Bill Tonelli, and "Jimmy Hoffa and 'The Irishman': A True Crime Story?" by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, which appeared in The New York Review of Books.
In Philip Carlo's book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer (2006), Richard Kuklinski claimed to know the fate of Hoffa: his body was placed in a 50-gallon drum and set on fire for "a half hour or so", then the drum was welded shut and buried in a junkyard. Later, according to Kuklinski, an accomplice started to talk to federal authorities. Because of fear that he would use the information to try to get out of trouble, the perpetrators had the drum dug up and placed in the trunk of a car, which was then compacted and shipped, along with hundreds of others, to Japan as scrap metal. Former FBI agent Robert Garrity called Kuklinski's admission to killing Hoffa "a hoax" and said Kuklinski was never a suspect in Hoffa's disappearance, adding "I've never heard of him." Mafia writer and journalist Jerry Capeci also dismissed Kuklinski's claims that he killed Hoffa as "mostly demented ramblings".
Hoffa's body was rumored to be buried in Giants Stadium. In an episode of the Discovery Channel show MythBusters, titled "The Hunt for Hoffa", the locations in the stadium where Hoffa was rumored to be buried were scanned with a ground penetrating radar. This was intended to reveal if any disturbances indicated a human body had been buried there. They found no trace of any human remains. In addition, no human remains were found when Giants Stadium was demolished in 2010.
In 2012, Roseville, Michigan, police took samples from the ground under a suburban Detroit driveway after a person reported having witnessed the burial of a body there around the time of Hoffa's 1975 disappearance. Tests by Michigan State University anthropologists found no evidence of human remains.
In January 2013, reputed gangster Tony Zerilli implied that Hoffa was originally buried in a shallow grave, with the plan to move his remains later to a second location. Zerilli contends that these plans were abandoned. He said Hoffa's remains lay in a field in northern Oakland County, Michigan, not far from the restaurant where he was last seen. Zerilli denied any responsibility for or association with Hoffa's disappearance. On June 17, 2013, investigation of the Zerilli information led the FBI to a property in Oakland Township in northern Oakland County owned by Detroit mob boss Jack Tocco. After three days, the FBI called off the dig. No human remains were found, and the case remains open.
James Buccellato, a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University, suggested in 2017 that Hoffa was likely murdered one mile away from the restaurant at the house of Carlo Licata, the son of mobster Nick Licata. At the time the Mafia owned several waste incinerators and a crematorium in the Detroit area, and he further suggested that Hoffa's body was taken to one of these places. He was doubtful it had been transported a long distance, saying "It's just not practical."
Thomas Andretta, who died in 2019, and his brother Stephen, who reportedly died of cancer in 2000, were named by the FBI as suspects. Both were New Jersey Teamsters and reputed Genovese crime family mob associates. The FBI called Thomas Andretta a "trusted associate of Anthony Provenzano; reported to be involved in the disappearance of Hoffa".
In an April 2019 interview with DJ Vlad, former Colombo crime family capo Michael Franzese stated that he is certain Hoffa's disappearance was mob related, that he is aware of the location of Hoffa's body and his shooter, as well as being in the possession of tapes that reveal details of his disappearance. Franzese said, "I can tell you that it's wet, that's for sure," and "Upon good information, again, I think I know who the real shooter was; still alive today, in prison."
In film and fiction
In the 1978 film F.I.S.T., Sylvester Stallone plays "Johnny Kovak", a character based on Hoffa. In the 1983 TV miniseries Blood Feud, Hoffa is portrayed by Robert Blake. In the 1984 TV film The Jesse Owens Story, Hoffa is portrayed by Tom Bosley. In the 1984 Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time in America syndicalist James Conway O'Donnell's character, played by Treat Williams, is inspired by Hoffa. In the 1985 television miniseries Robert Kennedy and His Times, Hoffa is portrayed by Trey Wilson. In the 1992 film Hoffa, Hoffa is portrayed by Jack Nicholson. He is portrayed by Thomas Wagner in the 1993 television movie Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair. Author James Ellroy features a fictional historical version of Hoffa in the Underworld USA Trilogy novels as an important secondary character, most prominently in the novels American Tabloid (1995) and The Cold Six Thousand (2001). In the 2003 comedy/drama film Bruce Almighty, the titular character uses powers endowed by God to manifest Hoffa's body in order to procure a story interesting enough to reclaim his career in the news industry. In the 2019 Martin Scorsese film The Irishman, which adapts the book I Heard You Paint Houses, Hoffa is portrayed by Al Pacino. Pacino was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
- List of people who disappeared
- List of people pardoned or granted clemency by the president of the United States
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David Daniel Beck
| President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Frank Edward Fitzsimmons