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After 30 years, FBI is still looking for Brazil native Jimmy Hoffa

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jimmy Hoffa, July 24, 1975

Detroit Free Press photo

Used with permission

Now that Mark Felt (a.k.a. reporter Bob Woodward's Deep Throat) has come out of hiding, is it possible we will learn what happened to another mysterious figure -- Jimmy Hoffa? The FBI is still looking, possibly as recently as Wednesday.

Even though Brazil native Hoffa has been missing (and presumed dead) for more than 30 years, authorities are still following leads, hoping they will turn up his remains.

On Wednesday the FBI searched a horse farm west of Detroit, Mich., the Associated Press reported.

The Teamsters leader was last seen July 30, 1975, at a restaurant near Detroit.

Agent Dawn Clenney, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Detroit, said the bureau was executing a search warrant in Milford Township, about 35 miles west of Detroit.

Investigators are looking for "evidence of criminal activity that may have occurred under previous ownership" on the property, Clenney said.

When asked if they were searching for Hoffa's remains, the FBI agent said, "Could be" but would not say more.

Hoffa's remains

What, exactly, would investigators find, if they did discover Hoffa's remains?

The flesh would be gone, said a local funeral director this morning.

"After 30 years (a body) should be completely decomposed," said Rob Moore, of Moore Funeral Home in Brazil. "They would find bones, and that's all."

However, there would be enough DNA material in those bones to be matched with family members to determine if the remains were those of Hoffa, Moore said.

The Brazil Times could not establish any of Jimmy Hoffa's relatives still live in Clay County, though there are telephone listings for people by the name of Hoffa. Those people could not be contacted by press time.

Two years ago, in May 2004, authorities ripped up the floor of a Detroit home where Frank Sheeran, a one-time Hoffa ally, had claimed he shot Hoffa to death. But no evidence of Hoffa was found.

Hoffa's disappearance a major operation?

Robert Garrity was one of the first FBI agents to work on Hoffa's disappearance in 1975. Last July, the Detroit Free Press caught up with him in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he worked as a part-time NFL security consultant for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Garrity believed Hoffa's disappearance was a major operation.

"We think the Andretta brothers (Stephen and Thomas) and Briguglio (Salvatore) at the behest of the organized-crime leadership of Detroit and Newark, N.J.," were behind Hoffa's disappearance, he told the Detroit newspaper. "It wasn't more than a few people. Everybody probably got assigned to only the part they were supposed to know."

Garrity believes the body was destroyed in an incinerator or a car crusher not far from the restaurant where Hoffa was last seen.

Garrity also believes Sheeran is a possible suspect.

"That story is as good as any and I've always felt he was a person who could possibly have done it," he said. "Sheeran provided some credible information in the book. And why would he say he did it if he didn't? There was no reason for him to lie. Without the bones or an eyewitness, Sheeran's account will stand as a good explanation of what happened."

A Teamster's life

Hoffa was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1958-1971.

He was born in 1913 in Brazil, the third of four children. His father was a coal-mine driller who died when Hoffa was 7. His mother moved the family to Detroit in 1924, where she worked in a laundry and in auto plants.

He dropped out of school in 7th grade and became a stocker at Frank & Cedar's, a downtown Detroit department store, according to the Free Press. At age 16, he got a job at a Kroger warehouse at Fort and Green unloading produce from rail cars for 32 cents an hour.

In 1931, at age 18, Hoffa organized a successful sit-down strike that won better pay for dock workers. The next year, he became an organizer for the Teamsters and worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming president of Local 299 in Detroit.

In 1936, Hoffa married Josephine Poszywak.

Hoffa became Teamsters international vice president in 1952.

In 1964, he signed the National Master Freight Contract, the first national trucking contract, requiring freight companies to pay drivers the same rate regardless of where they worked.

In that year, he was convicted in separate trials of jury tampering and misusing union pension funds. In 1967, he began serving a 13-year sentence at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa.

In June 1971, he resigned the Teamsters presidency.

In December 1971, President Richard Nixon commuted Hoffa's sentence on the condition he stay out of union activities until 1980. Insisting that the commutation he signed didn't contain the union ban, Hoffa filed a federal appeal in hopes of regaining the Teamsters presidency.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa vanished from the parking lot of a Bloomfield Township restaurant, where he had gone to make peace with a New Jersey mobster. Hoffa was never found.

His son, James Philip Hoffa, was elected international Teamsters president in 1998.

In 1982, Hoffa was declared legally dead.

March 2001: DNA tests determined that a hair found in the back of the car Chuckie O'Brien was driving at the time of Hoffa's disappearance is Hoffa's. O'Brien, known as one of Hoffa's protégés, had denied any connection to his former boss's death.

March 2002: The FBI said it would refer the case to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office for possible state charges. But on Aug. 29, Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said there wasn't enough evidence to charge anyone.

Hollywood remembers Hoffa

Hoffa has become a cultural icon.

In 1992, Jack Nicholson played Hoffa in a movie about his life and disappearance. "Hoffa" was directed by Danny DeVito.

There have been other films in which Hoffa has been portrayed:

-In "Blood Feud," a 1983 made-for-TV movie, Hoffa is played by Robert Blake. The drama shows the conflict between Hoffa and Robert F. Kennedy, the late U.S. Attorney General.

-Even "The Simpsons" has made a reference to Hoffa's disappearance. In a 1993 episode titled "Last Exit to Springfield," a union representative disappears. The cartoon then shows a football scene in which a player trips over a body-shaped lump in the field. It's a spoof on the claim that Hoffa's body is buried in Giants Stadium in Rutherford, N.J.

-The discovery of Hoffa's body is a comical twist in the 2003 Jim Carrey movie "Bruce Almighty."

-In 2004, the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" sought to debunk reports that Hoffa was entombed in a corner of Giants Stadium. A search with ground-penetrating radar did not find any trace of Hoffa.

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