"James Hoffa" redirects here. For his son, see James P. Hoffa.
|Born||James Riddle Hoffa
February 14, 1913
Brazil, Indiana, United States
|Disappeared||July 30, 1975 (aged 62)
Bloomfield Township, Oakland County, Michigan, United States
|Status||Declared dead in absentia
July 30, 1982
|Occupation||Labor union leader, author|
|Spouse(s)||Josephine Hoffa, nee Poszywak (1918–1980)|
|Children||James P. Hoffa
Barbara Ann Crancer
James Riddle "Jimmy" Hoffa (born February 14, 1913 – disappeared July 30, 1975) was an American labor union leader who vanished, aged 62. He is widely believed to have been murdered.
Hoffa was a union activist from a young age, and was an important regional figure with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) union by his mid twenties. By 1952, Hoffa had risen to national vice-president of the IBT, and served as the union's General President between 1958 and 1971. He secured the first national agreement for teamsters' rates in 1964, and played a major role in the growth and development of the union, which eventually became the largest single union in the United States, with over 1.5 million members at certain times, during his terms as its leader.
Hoffa became involved with organized crime from the early years of his Teamsters work, and this connection continued until his disappearance in 1975. He was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud in 1964. Hoffa was imprisoned in 1967, and sentenced to 13 years, after exhausting the appeal process. In mid-1971 he resigned the Teamsters' presidency, an action that was part of a pardon agreement with President Richard Nixon, to facilitate his release later that year. Nixon blocked Hoffa from union activities until 1980 (which would have been the end of his prison term, had he served the full sentence). Hoffa attempted to overturn this order and to regain support.
Hoffa was last seen in late July 1975, outside the Machus Red Fox, a suburban Detroit restaurant. His disappearance gave rise to many theories as to what happened to him and where his body was hidden.
Hoffa was born in Brazil, Indiana, on February 14, 1913, to Indiana natives John and Viola (née Riddle) Hoffa. His paternal ancestors were partially Pennsylvania Dutch. His father died in 1920 when Hoffa was seven years old, and 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 full-time manual labor to help support his family.
Hoffa began union organizational work at the grassroots level through his employment as a teenager with a grocery chain, 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 bravery and approachability in this role impressed fellow workers, and he rose to a leadership position. By 1932, after defiantly refusing to work for an abusive shift foreman, who inspired Hoffa's long career of organizing workers, he left the grocery chain, in part because of his union activities, and Hoffa was then invited to become an organizer with the Local 299 of the Teamsters in Detroit.
He married Josephine Poszywak in 1936, and in 1939 paid $6,900 for a modest home at 16154 Robson Street in northwest Detroit. The couple had two children: a daughter, Barbara Ann, and a son, James. The Hoffa family later had a summer property at Lake Orion, Michigan, north of Detroit.
Growth of the Teamsters
The Teamsters union, founded in 1903, had only 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 one gigantic 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; and 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, and 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 from the early 1930s, eventually brought the Teamsters to a position of being one of the most powerful unions in the United States.
However, trucking unions in that era were heavily influenced, and in many cases controlled by, elements of organized crime. For Hoffa to unify and expand trucking union groups, 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, he 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 Beck 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.
Teamsters Union presidency
Hoffa took over the presidency of the Teamsters in 1958, at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. His predecessor, Dave Beck, had appeared before the John Little McClellan-led US 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 on fraud charges later that year at a trial held in Seattle, and imprisoned.
Teamsters union expelled
The 1957 AFL–CIO convention, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, voted by a ratio of nearly 5-1 to expel the IBT from the larger union group. President George Meany gave an emotional speech, advocating removal of the IBT, and stating that he could only agree to further affiliation of the Teamsters 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 finest achievement in a lifetime of union activity. He 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.
Bernard Spindel after a court session in which they pleaded innocent to illegal wiretap charges
Hoffa had first faced major criminal investigations in 1957, as a result of the John Little McClellan Senate Labor Subcommittee's work. He avoided conviction for several years, but when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy 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, Robert Kennedy pursued the strongest attack on organized crime that the country had ever seen, and he carried on with a so-called 'Get Hoffa' squad of prosecutors and investigators.
In 1964, Hoffa was convicted in Chattanooga, Tennessee, of attempted bribery of a grand juror, and was sentenced to eight years. This case resulted from an earlier matter, the Test Fleet case, the trial for which had been held in Nashville, Tennessee. Hoffa was implicated by one of his close associates, Edward Grady Partin, a Louisiana teamster, who went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with the information that led to Hoffa's conviction. Hoffa was also convicted of fraud later that same year for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund, in a trial held in Chicago. Hoffa had illegally arranged several large pension fund loans to leading organized crime figures. He received a five-year sentence to run consecutively to his bribery sentence. Robert F. Kennedy, who had pursued Hoffa for several years, since the McClellan-led U.S. Senate Labor industry hearings of 1957, stepped down as Attorney General in 1964, after the second Hoffa conviction, to run successfully for the New York seat in the November 1964 United States Senate election.
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 sentences in March 1967 at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
Appoints Fitzsimmons as caretaker president
Just before he entered prison, Hoffa appointed Frank Fitzsimmons as acting Teamsters president. Fitzsimmons was a Hoffa loyalist, fellow Detroit resident, and a longtime member (since the 1930s) of Teamsters Local 299 in Detroit, 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 Teamsters' union administration structure. During the Hoffa era, Hoffa had kept most power in his own hands.
On December 23, 1971, less than five years into his 13-year sentence, Hoffa was released from the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania prison, when President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to time served. Following his release, Hoffa was awarded a Teamsters' pension of $1.7 million, delivered in a one-time lump sum payment. This type of pension settlement had not occurred before with the Teamsters.
The IBT endorsed Richard Nixon, the Republican Party's candidate, in his presidential re-election bid in 1972; in prior elections, the IBT union had supported Democratic Party nominees, but had also endorsed Nixon in 1960. Suspicion was soon raised of a deal for Hoffa's release connected with the IBT's support of Nixon in 1972. It was alleged that a large sum of money, estimated to be as high as $1 million, was paid secretly to Nixon. Evidence was also alleged of a secret bribe paid in 1960.
While glad to regain his freedom, Hoffa was very displeased with the condition imposed on his release by President Nixon that restricted Hoffa from participating in union activities until March 1980. He accused the Nixon administration senior figures, including Attorney General John N. Mitchell and White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, of depriving him of his rights by initiating this clause; both Mitchell and Colson denied this. It was likely imposed upon Hoffa as the result of requests from senior Teamsters' leadership, although IBT President Frank Fitzsimmons also denied this.
Hoffa sued to invalidate the non-participation restriction, in order to reassert his power over the Teamsters, and 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 quarters 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 1970 book titled The Trials of Jimmy Hoffa.
Hoffa disappeared at, or sometime after, 2:45 pm on July 30, 1975, from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield Township, an affluent suburb of Detroit. According to what he had told others, he believed he was to meet there with two Mafia leaders: Anthony Giacalone and Anthony Provenzano. Provenzano was also a union leader with the Teamsters in New Jersey, and had earlier been quite close to Hoffa. Provenzano was a national vice-president with IBT from 1961, Hoffa's second term as Teamsters' president.
When Hoffa did not return home that evening, his wife reported him missing. Police found Hoffa's car at the restaurant, but there was no sign of Hoffa himself or any indication of what happened to him. Extensive investigations into the disappearance began immediately, and continued over the next several years by several law enforcement groups, including the FBI. The investigations did not conclusively determine Hoffa's fate. For their part, Giacalone and Provenzano were found not to have been near the restaurant that afternoon, and each denied they had scheduled a meeting with Hoffa.
Hoffa was declared legally dead in 1982, on the seventh anniversary of his disappearance, when he would have been aged 69. His disappearance gave rise to many rumors and theories.
2000s claims and developments
In 2001, the FBI matched DNA from Hoffa's hair—taken from a brush—with a strand of hair found in a 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham driven by longtime friend Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien on July 30, 1975. Police and Hoffa's family had long believed O'Brien played a role in Hoffa's disappearance. O'Brien, however, had previously denied ever being involved in Hoffa's disappearance or that Hoffa had ever taken a ride in his 1975 Mercury Marquis Brougham.
In the 2005 book I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa, author Charles Brandt posits that Sheeran, a professional killer for the mob and longtime "friend" of Hoffa's, assassinated him.
On June 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press published in its entirety the so-called "Hoffex Memo", a 56-page report the FBI prepared for a January 1976 briefing on the case at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Although not claiming to conclusively establish the specifics of his disappearance, the memo indicates that law enforcement's belief is that Hoffa was murdered at the behest of organized crime figures who deemed his efforts to regain power within the Teamsters to be a threat to their control of the union's pension fund. The FBI has called the report the definitive account of what agents believe happened to Hoffa.
In the 2009 book The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer, Richard Kuklinski claims to have been responsible for Hoffa's murder. By his account, Kuklinski killed him with a hunting knife, burned the body for "a half hour or so" in a 55-gallon drum, then welded it shut and buried it in a junkyard. He goes on to describe how, when an accomplice began to talk to the authorities, the drum was dug up and placed in the trunk of a car, which was then compacted and sold along with hundreds of other compacted cars, and subsequently shipped to Japan as scrap metal for manufacturing new vehicles.
On September 26, 2012, Roseville, Michigan police announced that they would take soil samples from the ground under a suburban Detroit driveway after a person called and told police he believed he witnessed the burial of a body around the same time as Hoffa's 1975 disappearance. No evidence of a body was found in samples taken September 28, 2012 and tests for decomposition of human remains were analyzed by Michigan State University's forensic anthropologists who determined that there were no signs of human remains.
In January 2013, reputed gangster Tony Zerilli offered that Hoffa was originally buried in a shallow grave, with the plan that Hoffa's remains would later be moved to a second location. Zerilli contends, however, that these plans were abandoned, and Hoffa's remains lay in a field in northern Oakland County, not far from the restaurant at which he was last seen. Zerilli, however, denied any responsibility or association with Hoffa's disappearance. On June 17, 2013, the Zerilli information led 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.
Hoffa's son, James P. Hoffa, is the current president of the Teamsters' Union, having served in that position since 1999. Jimmy Hoffa's daughter, Barbara Ann Crancer, retired as an Associate Circuit Judge in St. Louis County, Missouri, in March 2008. But one year later, she agreed to serve as an Associate Attorney General to the Attorney General for the State of Missouri, Chris Koster, as Chief Counsel of the Division of Civil Disability and Workers Rights, and retired again in March 2011.
Film and television
- Hoffa was portrayed by Robert Blake in the 1983 TV-film Blood Feud, by Trey Wilson in the 1985 television miniseries Robert Kennedy & His Times, and by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film Hoffa.
- In the 1978 film F.I.S.T., Sylvester Stallone portrays Johnny Kovak, a character based on Hoffa.
- In the film Bruce Almighty, Bruce uses his powers to unearth Jimmy Hoffa's body so that he had a story to cover to get his job back.
- He is referenced on a sign on the "Skid Marks" episode of Rocko's Modern Life.
- He is referenced in the 1991 film Point Break by Angelo Pappas to Johnny Utah while investigating an Ex-Presidents Robbery.
- He is referenced in the Breaking Bad episode "End Times" in which Agent Steve Gomez jokes to a Laundromat worker that "“We’re gonna find heroin here like we’re going to find Jimmy Hoffa,” when searching the Laundromat.
- He is referenced in The Sopranos in the fourth episode of the sixth season when a surgeon who operated on Tony claims to have found Hoffa inside Tony's stomach.
He is referenced in 1994's Ace Ventura pet detective "they'll find jimmy hoffa before they find any humpback whales"
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