DETROIT — A man convicted of crimes as a reputed Mafia captain has come forward with claims that missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa was buried in suburban Detroit.
Tony Zerilli was in prison when Hoffa disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant in 1975, but tells New York TV station WNBC that he was informed about Hoffa’s whereabouts after his release. The ailing 85-year-old took a WDIV reporter to a field near Rochester, north of Detroit, but no exact location was disclosed. The report was also aired on Detroit’s WDIV.
“The master plan was … they were going to put him in a shallow grave here,” Zerilli said (http://bit.ly/13vkm50). “Then, they were going to take him from here to Rogers City upstate. There was a hunting lodge and they were going to bury in a shallow grave, then take him up there for final burial. Then, I understand, that it just fell through.”
The FBI, which has led the search for Hoffa for decades, declined to comment Monday when asked if the claims were credible. Andrew Arena, former head of the FBI in Detroit, said Zerilli’s remarks deserve serious consideration.
“Anthony Zerilli was reputed to be the underboss of the Detroit organized crime family, so he would have been in the know,” Arena said.
WDIV reported that Zerilli has spoken with the FBI, but it was not clear during his interview why he chose to go public with his claims now. No listed phone number for Zerilli could be found Monday by The Associated Press.
Hoffa, Teamsters president from 1957-71, was an acquaintance of mobsters and adversary to federal officials. The day he disappeared, he was supposed to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.
In September, police took soil from the backyard of a modest home in Roseville after a tip Hoffa had been buried there. It was just one of many fruitless searches. Previous tips led police to a horse farm northwest of Detroit in 2006, a Detroit home in 2004 and a backyard pool two hours north of the city in 2003.
“I would have done anything in the world to protect Jim Hoffa,” Zerilli said. “Jim Hoffa to me was a gentleman, and what happened to him was as wrong as anything could be as far as I’m concerned.”
Zerilli’s criminal record includes a 2002 conviction for conspiracy and extortion. He was sentenced to six years in prison.