4/24/12 - teamsters' president jimmy hoffa

In today's excerpt - Jimmy Hoffa, the powerful General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union and reputed organized crime leader who for years was the bete noire of Bobby Kennedy, and who used the Teamsters' pension as an essentially personal fund to lend to the likes of President Richard Nixon and wildcatter Clint Murchison, Sr., father of Dallas Cowboys founding owner Clint Murchison, Jr.:

"James Riddle Hoffa ... was an unrestrained prole, short (five foot five), stumpy (180 pounds), and radiant with concentrated power. [In 1957] at forty-four, he was approaching maximum clout inside the labor movement. He still made it a point to wear off-the-rack suits and white wool sweat socks so that his counterparts from the business end of the trucking industry would make no mistake about his coal-mining origins. Like [previous Teamsters president] Dave Beck, he was a grade-school dropout. Unlike Beck, Hoffa betrayed little interest in strutting like a sultan around the Marble Palace, the luxurious new Teamster headquarters in D.C., or in limousines, or in expensive men's cologne.

"He made a unique impression. A dab of brilliantine was never able to restrain his short glossy black hair, so that feathers of it tended to stand up all around his scalp. His mood was normally a kind of caustic good humor, but should Hoffa become genuinely angry, as Paul Jacobs wrote, 'his gray-green eyes get incredibly cold and menacing. It's then that his ruthlessness, his obvious belief in physical violence as an instrument of power, shows through. ...'

"[When Hoffa was arrested] on charges of bribery and conspiracy, ... Robert Kennedy and Ethel contacted reporters before going down to the courthouse after midnight personally to watch Jimmy Hoffa get booked. 'He kept looking at me, his eyes full of disdain,' Kennedy reported to La Verne Duffy. Hoffa told Kennedy to run along home to bed. 'I'll take care of things, Bobby,' Hoffa assured Kennedy. 'Don't let's have any problems.' But Kennedy wouldn't leave, and after a few minutes Hoffa chal­lenged Kennedy to a push-up contest. Hoffa could do fifty, one-handed. ...

"[In later Senate investigation hearings,] Kennedy would be pressing hard for how precisely Hoffa exploited ... a wide array of middle-level thugs to control the locals. But the squat, inci­sive Teamster chief was probably more concerned that Rackets Committee investigators be kept as far as possible from the ambitious loans his pension fund was contemplating. The Teamsters Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund, run out of Chicago, was already one of the great unpublicized honeypots in financial America. It had the virtue of remaining largely unsupervised. There were eight representatives of man­agement and eight of labor in place as trustees, but Hoffa exerted such intim­idating leverage that oversight was never contemplated. Approximately 60 percent of the assets were sunk in risky real estate ventures, entirely at the discretion of Hoffa and his cronies.

"Over the years, Teamster assets went out to underwrite everything from the million dollars Richard Nixon squeezed out of the Central States Fund to defray the costs of the Watergate cover-up to an estimated $300,000,000 [over $2 billion in today's dollars] plowed into Las Vegas by way of the Sunrise Hospital conglomerate and the Paradise Development Company. Having erected the main strip of casinos and hotels with Mormon money, the Mob shrewdly bought up enormous tracts of surrounding land with 6 percent notes from the Teamsters. Clint Murchison tapped Teamster assets to bankroll his more flamboyant wildcatting ventures."


Burton Hersh


Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America


Basic Books


Copyright 2007 by Burton Hersh


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