OAKLAND TOWNSHIP (WWJ) - The latest chapter in the seemingly illimitable search for labor leader Jimmy Hoffa's remains has ended in defeat.
"... After a diligent search — pursuant to our responsibilities under the search warrant — we did not uncover any evidence relevant to the investigation on James Hoffa," said Bob Foley, FBI Special Agent in Charge with the Detroit Field Office.
"I'm very confident of our result here — after two days-plus of diligent effort — and at this point we'll be closing down the excavation operation, and we''ll be returning the property over to the property owner in the condition in which it was found," Foley said.
Foley said, however, the case remains open.
This week's dig, which began Monday morning, was the latest of many spanning nearly two decades.
Monday afternoon, investigators uncovered a "suspicious concrete slab," which, as it turned out, didn't contain any evidence. Likewise, on Tuesday, a reported "hit" by a cadaver dog turned out to be a bust.
It was the result of extensive FBI interviews with former FBI underboss Tony Zerilli, who earlier this year told a reporter that Hoffa was buried in a shallow grave on the Oakland Township property which is believed to be owned by a family with mob ties.
Zerilli, at one time second in command in the Detroit mafia, said he was told by a mafia enforcer that Hoffa was abducted, killed, and brought to the Buhl Road farm In Oakland Township. The original plan, according to the mobster, was to bury him there temporarily and then take his body up to northern Michigan and bury him at a hunting lodge.
Zerilli, now 85, was convicted of organized crime as a reputed mafia captain. He was in prison when Hoffa disappeared from a Bloomfield Township restaurant — but says he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release.
Zerilli's attorney, David Chasnick, said Wednesday his client still believes the information he gave is accurate, adding that the the FBI's search may have been too limited.
Investigators have pursued thousands of leads in the decades since the Teamsters boss went to lunch on July 30, 1975, at the Machus Red Fox to meet a mob-connected Teamsters boss and Detroit mob Captain Tony Jack Giacalone — and was never seen again.
The federal government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hunt for Hoffa, according to sources talking to CBS Detroit.
The 2006 Milford farm dig alone cost $250,000, sources said, and before that, in 2003, the feds excavated a swimming pool and the surrounding area a few hours north of Detroit. They subsequently tore apart a home where Hoffa's blood reportedly stained the floorboards.
In September of last year, radar equipment was reportedly brought in by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to scan a driveway on near 12 Mile and Gratiot in Roseville. But soil tests showed no signs of human DNA.
"I've talked to several high-level members of organized crime families (about this)," said Detroit mob expert and author Scott Bernstein in a CBS Detroit interview. "And a very highly placed member made a comment, 'If we had to do it all over again, we would have left him in the middle of Telegraph Road.'"
It's believed that Hoffa was making an attempt to regain control of the Teamsters union following his release from federal prison in 1971, and organized crime figures from around the country ordered Hoffa's death to stop that from happening.
Jimmy Hoffa rose to power in the Teamsters through the 1940s-50s — reportedly with help from the mafia. According to sources, his relationship with organized crime resulted in Hoffa being elected international president in 1957 around the same time he opened up the labor union's pension fund for access by his mob buddies, used primarily to build and then skim Las Vegas casinos.
Imprisoned on bribery and jury tampering charges in the late 1960s, Hoffa gave up the union presidency to his vice-president and protegé Frank Fitzsimmons, who arranged a White House pardon by Richard Nixon in late 1971.
Hoffa's pardon held in it a clause that he could not run for the Teamsters presidency again until 1980. Upon his release from incarceration, Hoffa decided to fight the ban on him running, a move that is not welcomed by his former allies in the mob, happy with Fitzsimmons in the slot, since he is considerably easier to deal with. Approaching the mob for their support, Hoffa was rebuffed. Instead, he went on a two-year media campaign and according to some, begins working with the FBI, to try and convince the public and the government that he's a changed man and if allowed to run in '76 intends to rid the union of its longstanding and widespread mafia influence.
Obviously, this didn't sit well with the mob. Sending a series of emissaries, Hoffa was reportedly told to "quiet down" and relent in his quest to reclaim power in the Teamsters. According to mob insiders, he refused, threatening the mob's hold on the union and through it, its control over Las Vegas/the union pension fund.
Sources talking Burnstein say a murder contract was placed on Hoffa's life in early 1975. The crime families in Detroit, Chicago, Pennsylvania and New York City allegedly coordinated efforts to lure Hoffa out in the open is a meeting with east coach mafia leader Tony Provenzano, which was supposed to take place the day Hoffa went missing. The pair had once been close friends and were fighting, but Hoffa needed Provenzano's support — since he controlled large amounts of delegates in the election — if he wanted to win in '76.
Local mafia expert and author Scott Burnstein contributed to this report.
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