James R. Hoffa, then Vice-President of the Teamsters Union, testifies 20 August 1957 in Washington DC before the Senate Rackets Committee. (Getty Images file)
DETROIT (USA Today) -- A man the FBI believed was a Detroit mob underboss is the latest to claim he can solve the mystery behind the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Tony Zerilli, 85, told WDIV-TV in Detroit that Hoffa, 62, was temporarily buried in a field in northern Oakland County, Mich., after he was kidnapped on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, from a restaurant parking lot in Oakland County. Hoffa's body has never been found and his disappearance sparked one of the 20th century's biggest mysteries.
Zerilli, who denied during the interview that he was in the mob, said he was in jail at the time, but heard about the incident after he was released. He said he believes Hoffa's body is still buried 30 miles away from the restaurant, and that he's talked to the FBI about it.
"The master plan was, as I understood, they were going to put him in a shallow grave here, and they were going to take him from here to Rogers City, upstate, where there was a hunting lodge," Zerilli said during the interview. "That just fell through."
Simon Shaykhet, spokesman for the FBI's Detroit office, said the agency has no comment on the claims.
Andy Arena, who retired as director of the FBI's Detroit office in May, said he would investigate Zerilli's claims were he still with the agency.
"Anthony Zerilli was reputed to be the underboss of the Detroit organized crime family, so he would have been in the know," said Arena, who now leads the Detroit Crime Commission, a year-old nonprofit group made up of former law enforcement officers and analysts who investigate criminal activity and quality of life issues in metro Detroit. "In my opinion, he would have known what happened."
The FBI has theorized that Hoffa disappeared after going to the restaurant for a reconciliation meeting with Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a mob-connected New Jersey Teamster official, and Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a Detroit mafia captain.
The FBI believed that Provenzano and Giacalone had Hoffa killed to prevent him from regaining the Teamsters presidency and ending the mob's influence over the union and easy access to Teamster pension funds. Hoffa ran the union in 1957-71.
Various theories - and numerous books and interviews - surmise that Hoffa's body was either burned in an incinerator or buried.
In September, the Roseville (Mich.) Police Department with the assistance of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality used sonar equipment and soil samples to see whether a body was buried under a driveway.
Although the informant's contention that Hoffa was buried there didn't match a police timeline of Hoffa's disappearance, Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said he'd take the same steps under identical circumstances - despite the media frenzy that descended on a quiet suburban side street to witness the fruitless search.
"You just can't blow it off," he said. "You have to gauge the credibility of those involved and go from there."
In 2006, the FBI spent 14 days digging at a horse farm in Milford, Mich., in an unsuccessful effort to find Hoffa's remains.
Shaykhet would not comment on whether the agency will be conducting any searches in the near future.