OAKLAND TOWNSHIP (WWJ) - Federal agents are digging up a field in Northern Oakland Township in hopes of finding the remains of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.
The feds Monday morning began their search of a property in northern Oakland County. The dig — the latest in what's been nearly a 40-year search — is the result of extensive FBI interviews with a former mobster. Mafia underboss Tony Zerilli told WDIV-TV in an exclusive interview earlier this year that Hoffa was buried in a shallow grave on the property which is believed to be owned by a family with mob ties.
Zerilli, who was second in command with the Detroit mafia, said he was told by a mafia enforcer that Hoffa was abducted, killed, and brought to the Buhl Road site. The original plan, according to the mobster, was to bury him there temporarily, then later move his body near a hunting lodge in northern Michigan.
Zerilli, now 85, was convicted of organized crime as a reputed mafia captain. He was in prison on July, 30 1975 — when Hoffa disappeared from a Bloomfield Township restaurant — but says he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release.
All these years later, why continue to search for Hoffa's body?
WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke live Monday morning with local mob expert and author Scott Bernstein who said he doesn't believe there is a body to be found, but, "... I think that the crime itself has taken on an unbelievable amount of legs to ... keep the story in the headlines for 35 years-plus," he said.
"It's a giant black eye for the FBI. It's a piece of local folklore that will always ... beg the attention that it gets," Bernstein said. "And I think in that regard, you know, it speaks for itself."
Bernstein believes Hoffa's body was disposed of in an incinerator.
"That said, you have to follow this lead because it's probably the most credible lead that the FBI's ever gotten ... on this case," said Bernstein, due to the fact that Zerilli, the son of Detroit mafia founder Joe Zerilli, is the most credible person ever to have come forward with information.
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Robert Foley, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit division, says the agency Monday executed a search warrant at the site.
He said the warrant is sealed and didn't take questions from reporters.
The former head of Detroit's FBI office, Andrew Arena, says federal agents have spent a few months narrowing down a certain area of this farm for the search — which he expects to take about a week.
"The evidence recovery team is going to go in and they're gonna do a grid search of the area. If they have not already, they'll probably bring in the ground piercing radar to kind a take a look at the area and, you know, it's gonna take a while," Arena said. "They don't just come in with a bulldozer and a backhoe and start digging ... They're gonna take a look at the area, cordon it off, and then go section by section."
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a prosecutor at the time of Hoffa's disappearance, says he doesn't think anything will come of this dig. "I've been through this so many times. We've been down this trail, this dead-end street — I can almost think of a dozen separate times," Patterson said.
"We sent out the backhoes and tore up property, tore down barns or what have you, and ... I don't care how good the tip is in this instance. I am really pretty much a pessimist on this one," Patterson said.
Oakland Township residents are skeptical, too.
"I'm shocked that this is happening out here, and I just don't think it's for real," said Sharon McKay, who joined a curious crowd of onlookers. "There's so many other places that they've looked, and they haven't found him. Why now?"
Speaking at the scene, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, said he hopes this will finally bring the cold case to a close.
"It's my fondest hope that we can give that closure, not just to the Hoffa family, but also to the community. Stop tearing that scab off with every new lead and bring some conclusion," he said. "It's long overdue, and certainly, you know, the FBI is committed as we all are to ... bring that to that point."
Zerilli has been promoting a book, "Hoffa Found." A website says the book will reveal details about Hoffa's death.
Hoffa was president of the Teamsters union until 1971.
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