Connections to the Mob
Organized Crime Connections
In 1941 Hoffa entered a phase of his life which would remain with him until the end and would define a large part of his reputation when he formed his first alliance with organized crime. Involved in a turf fight with the Congress of Industrialized Organizations, he asked for help from some of Detroit’s east side gangsters to roust his opposition. The east side crowd was happy to oblige, and drove the CIO local out of town. Contacts between Hoffa and the mob would continue for the rest of his life. Some of the activities Hoffa engaged in with organized crime are rumors, while others are known for sure, but his connection to mob figures were never a secret, nor did he try to keep them one.
Hoffa Elected Teamsters Vice President
In 1952 Hoffa won election as international vice president of the Teamsters under president Dave Beck, who was already under investigation by federal agencies. Hoffa centralized the administration and bargaining procedures of the union in the international union office and succeeded in creating the first national freight-hauling agreement.
In 1957 Beck was summoned before the U.S. Senate’s McClellan Committee, where he took the Fifth Amendment approximately two hundred times. When Beck finished his testimony, he had little credibility left as the Teamsters leader. Hoffa moved in. The election to put Hoffa in the presidency was disputed, and the government publicly emphasized Hoffa’s connections with organized-crime figures. Nevertheless, Hoffa held on to the presidency and avoided jail for almost a decade.
Hoffa’s entrenchment in the Teamsters went hand-in-hand with the mob’s entrenchment in the Teamsters. Several organized crime figures assumed positions in the union, and a phony Teamster local was reportedly set up in Detroit as a front for drug dealing. Rumors persisted that Hoffa had murder contracts out on John Kennedy and/or Robert Kennedy, and Hoffa’s unconcealed satisfaction at the assassination of both brothers didn’t dispel the rumors. He never hesitated to use force in the operations of his union, either: An economics professor who had a 90-day inside look at the Teamsters in the early 1960s wrote, quoted in the Detroit News, “As recently as 1962, I heard him order the beating of a man 3, 000 miles away, and on another occasion, I heard him instruct his cadre on precisely how to ambush non-union truck drivers with gunfire … to frighten them, not to kill.”
Hoffa faced a series of major felony trials in the 1960s. One factor which had worked in his favor at avoiding prosecution was that Attorney General Robert Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover disliked each other too much to cooperate to prosecute him, but in 1962 he was tried for taking a million-dollar kickback for guaranteeing a company labor peace. He was acquitted, but on the last day of the trial he was accused of trying to bribe jurors. That charge brought Hoffa a conviction and an eight-year prison term in 1964, and two months later he suffered another conviction for mail fraud and misuse of a $20-million pension fund. The result was a 13-year combined sentence, which was commuted by President Richard Nixon in 1971 after Hoffa had served just under five years, during which he retained his presidency of the Teamsters.
One of the terms of Hoffa’s commuted sentence was that he refrain from union activity, but he made no bones about wanting to regain the presidency of the Teamsters. He lost an appeal on the restriction before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, but still hoped to displace Frank Fitzsimmons, whom he had picked himself to serve as president upon his release from prison.