Born Indiana, Feb. 14, 1913.
Declared dead 1982; believed killed July 30, 1975.
Organized crime within organized labor was targeted by Senate attorney Robert Kennedy in the 1950s, before his brother John became President and named Robert to the attorney general's post. At that time, Dave Beck was head of Teamsters International, and Hoffa was moving into national prominence as leader of the Teamsters in the Detroit area. Beck, in league with the Chicago crime Family of Sam Giancana, proved, due to his blatant criminal activity, ill-equipped to deal with the federal pressure. Giancana's group and members of New York's Lucchese Family helped Hoffa take over the International presidency on September 1957.
With John Kennedy's Presidential victory in 1960, Hoffa was in hot water. Late that year, Robert Kennedy announced that Hoffa was the primary focus of his attack on corruption in labor unions. Hoffa channeled many millions of dollars of Teamster pension funds to underworld activities in Las Vegas and other Mafia-run land development operations. Those secret loans, involving kickbacks to underworld brokers, illustrated the intimate links between various Mafia organizations and the Teamsters.
Hoffa was personally linked to Johnny "Dio" Dioguardi of the Lucchese Family. The Teamster membership records showed further links. Numerous known mobsters, including Tony Provenzano of New Jersey, were listed on the Teamster rolls.
Hoffa managed to escape a number of charges, but was finally convicted of attempting to influence a jury in 1962 and then of improperly tampering with the union pension fund in 1964. Appeals kept him out of jail until 1967, when he began a 13-year sentence. Hoffa and Tony Provenzano found themselves incarcerated in the same prison for a time. The two men, initially friendly, had disagreements and became enemies while behind bars.
Hoffa was freed by order of President Richard Nixon at the end of 1971 on the temporary condition that Hoffa not participate in union leadership. Hoffa's hand-picked successor Frank Fitzsimmons was still in control of the Teamsters and appeared unwilling to step aside for his old mentor. Hoffa's former underworld allies reportedly felt more comfortable with Fitzsimmons at the helm. As Hoffa began to plot a return to the union presidency, his relationship with Fitzsimmons and his allies soured.
On July 30, 1975, Hoffa was reportedly waiting at the Machus Red Fox restaurant outside Detroit to meet with representatives of the underworld. Witnesses said they saw him in the parking lot and making at least two telephone calls from a pay phone outside a nearby hardware store. Hoffa disappeared after that. He was declared legally dead in 1982.