Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa

Hoffa and the Mob

John F. Kennedy (Library of Congress)
John F. Kennedy
(Library of Congress)

In 1959 Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of John F. Kennedy who would soon be elected president of the United States, appeared on The Jack Paar Show, America's first late-night television talk show. At the time Bobby Kennedy was chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, better known as the McClellan Committee. Speaking to a national television audience, Kennedy had plenty to say about Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters union, and the crusading young attorney was not afraid to name names.

Hoffa with wife and family at Teamster rally (CORBIS)
Hoffa with wife and family at
Teamster rally (CORBIS)

Sitting across from an attentive Jack Paar, their images broadcast across America in grainy black and white, Kennedy said, "All of our lives are too intricately interwoven with this union to sit passively by and allow the Teamsters under Mr. Hoffa's leadership to create such a superpower in this country—a power greater than the people and greater than the Government... Unless something is done, this country is not going to be controlled by the people but is going to be controlled by Johnny Dio and Jimmy Hoffa and Tony 'Ducks' Corallo."

Tony 'Ducks' Corallo
Tony 'Ducks' Corallo

Except for Hoffa's, those names were probably unfamiliar to most Americans, but the directness of Kennedy's accusation was courageous and remarkable. What public official today would go on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or The Late Show with David Letterman and point the finger at gangsters, using their real names?

In the late 1950s, the McClellan Committee—named after its chairman, Senator John L. McClellan—was set up to investigate the influence of organized crime in labor unions . Though Robert Kennedy knew relatively little about organized labor when the committee began its work, the young attorney from Massachusetts was a quick study and a tenacious public servant. He made no bones about his desire to "get Hoffa." Kennedy could not abide corruption on any level, and by all indications the leadership of the Teamsters union was rotten to the core.

Hoffa had always been a brawler and a bully who would use any means necessary to achieve his goals for the Teamsters. When he and Kennedy locked horns in the public arena, Hoffa, as was his way, insisted on making it personal, ridiculing Kennedy and calling him a "boy." When the two men first met at a Washington dinner party, Hoffa had actually challenged Kennedy to an arm- wrestling contest and the next day publicly proclaimed victory. On another occasion at a restaurant, Hoffa initiated a shoving match with Kennedy because he felt that the young attorney had snubbed him. Kennedy was everything Hoffa loathed—born into money, Ivy League-educated, refined and good-looking—but in Hoffa's estimation Kennedy fell short because he didn't live up to Hoffa's standards for manhood.

Hoffa believed that a real man should be able to handle himself with his fists, intimidating his adversaries physically when words weren't enough. He also believed in any means to an end. According to Hoffa, the only thing that mattered was success, no matter how it was achieved, and to Hoffa's way of thinking, dealing with gangsters was necessary for the success of the Teamsters. But in fact dealing with Hoffa was more necessary for the success of the mob. While the mob provided Hoffa with the kind of muscle he valued, Hoffa provided the mob with money, lots of it.

Stardust Hotel and Desert Inn, Las Vegas
Stardust Hotel and Desert Inn, Las
Vegas

The jackpot in question was the Central States Pension Fund. The hardworking rank and file of the Teamsters entrusted the union with their retirement savings with the promise that it would be invested soundly and yield the highest dividends possible. But under Hoffa, loans were made to such dubious individuals as Jewish gangster Morris "Moe" Dalitz, one of the underworld's architects of Las Vegas. Dalitz, who started as a member of the notorious Purple Gang in Detroit before moving his base of operations to Cleveland, used money loaned from the Teamsters' pension fund to build the grand Desert Inn and the Stardust Hotel in Vegas.

Morris 'Moe' Dalitz
Morris 'Moe' Dalitz

According to Ralph and Estelle James in their book, Hoffa and the Teamsters, Dalitz was a member of Hoffa's inner circle. In 1949 when the Teamsters threatened to strike against the Detroit Laundry Institute, Dalitz, who was a part owner in a laundry, got Hoffa to intervene behind the scenes and managed to avert the strike. The McClellan Committee uncovered evidence that the grateful laundry owners of Detroit kicked back a substantial sum of money to Hoffa disguised as a loan.

John Dioguardi, aka Johnny Dio
John Dioguardi, aka
Johnny Dio

Mobster Johnny Dio, who was cited by Robert Kennedy on television, was considered the master of labor racketeering. Born John Dioguardi, he wrote the book on how to profit from labor unions and was welcomed by mob families across the country eager to learn from him. Dio, who belonged to New York's Lucchese family, would open garment factories, then negotiate "sweetheart deals" with the unions that granted him waivers from every major contractual obligation contained in their labor agreements. In this way Dio was able to use underpaid, nonunion immigrant labor in his factories, allowing him to undercut his competitors. In exchange for their cooperation, union officials were given generous kickbacks. "It cannot be said," the McClellan Committee concluded, "using the widest possible latitude, that John Dioguardi was ever interested in the lot of the working man."

One of Johnny Dio's partners in labor crime was Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, who earned his nickname not because he loved water fowl but because he had an uncanny ability to duck convictions in court. Dio and Corallo, who would one day become boss of the Lucchese family, set up six "paper locals" in New York with Jimmy Hoffa's blessing. These locals had no members, only officials who were either made-members or associates of the Mafia, and eventually these men were able to take control of all airport trucking in New York City. According to the McClellan Committee, these mobsters used "their positions for purposes of extortion, bribery, and shakedowns." In exchange for this extraordinary license to steal, Hoffa expected the paper locals to support him when it came time to vote in Teamster elections.

Teamsters' header
Teamsters' header

According to Stephen Fox in Blood and Power, the McClellan Committee uncovered "a pattern of squandered and stolen union funds, sweetheart contracts, conflicts of interest among employers and labor leaders, phony 'paper locals' and denial of democratic process to members, collusions and coercions and violence always about to break out" in cities across the country, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis. Hoffa's associates in organized crime included "Angelo Meli, William Bufalino, and Pete Licavoli of Detroit; Babe Triscaro of Cleveland; Paul Ricca and Joey Glimco of Chicago; and Johnny Dio, Tony Ducks Corallo, and Vincent Squillante of New York. " But as Fox points out, "Hoffa took cues—not orders—from gangsters." And that's where his troubles began.

 

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