Remains of the Day | Ex-Context | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Remains of the Day

Why the sudden renewed interest in Hoffa's body?

The feds are rooting around a horse farm up in Michigan, looking for Jimmy Hoffa. A Detroit TV station alleges the FBI got a tip from Donovan Wells, a 75-year-old convict at the Federal Medical Facility in Lexington, Kentucky. Wells has a 2012 release date he must not be figuring he'll make: He's probably hoping that a tip on Hoffa's body will be his get-out-of-jail-free card.

Wells says he remembers "suspicious activity" occurring at Hidden Dreams Farm at the time the former Teamster leader (and ex-con) disappeared.

So much for the story that Hoffa is under the end zone at Giants Stadium.

Personally, I always suspected Hoffa was dumped in the Allegheny, somewhere near the Strip where they filmed the movie about him. Why else would the filmmakers substitute Pittsburgh for Detroit? How expensive can it be to film in Detroit? Pittsburgh used to be a big union town. That's just too many coincidences.

Some call that kind of thinking good police work.

Anyway, the feds took a bunch of anthropologists and archaeologists with them. This seems appropriate, in that the disappearance of the now-legendary Hoffa is a piece of ancient history. With the possible exception of Hoffa's daughter, who really cares? The story is better as folklore. The FBI claims it is solving a "mystery." Funnily enough, though, there were a lot of guys in federal prison back in the '80s who were alleged to have had something to do with Hoffa's disappearance. Some were doing big time — much bigger than the crimes they were actually charged with.

I bet when Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano died in prison in 1988, the government was sure they'd bagged their man. Provenzano was in the joint for another murder based on the testimony of the kid who used to drive him around. But Nunzio Provenzano used to tell his fellow cons that his brother Tony would never talk about business in front of a kid — especially that kind of business.

Nunzi, by the way, did the better part of a decade for some financial irregularities, infractions that would have earned a shorter sentence for someone without a cloud of suspicion hanging over his head. Same goes for Ernie Palmeri, a friend of the Provenzanos and an official of a Teamster's union local in New Jersey. Ernie maxed out a nine-year sentence for getting preferential treatment from the bank where the union kept money. To put that in perspective, at about the same time, after a friend of mine got bagged in a sailboat in Key West with a ton-and-a-half of reefer, he served 20 months. Six of them were spent in a halfway house on Carson Street. I know — New Jersey, the garbage business, the Teamsters … it had to be racketeering and extortion. Right?

I could give you more examples, but you get the point: Strong suspicion can get you as much time in prison as actual proof in court. Closer to home, New Kensington's own Geno Chiarelli is in the process of finishing up a 22-year sentence for a drug conspiracy that almost nobody believes he was involved with — not even some cops and prosecutors. Of course, many of those people believe that Geno did do a lot of other things he got away with … so they figure what happened to him is fair.

I can understand this line of thinking, even if I don't quite empathize with it. Play with fire and you get burnt. If you get away with a few things and think you're slick, never forget that the feds have something for you. They might play dumb, like with the Hoffa thing. (A mystery … yeah, right.) But from a convict's point of view, they don't play fair.

The way we cons see it, if you're doing time, they should at least have to catch you fair and square. That means no bait-and-switch, giving you big time for some lesser charge. No violating the Constitution, no illegal wiretapping or warrant-less searches. We are the criminals, after all. The guys on the other side took oaths to stay righteous.

It's naïve, I know, but I think it explains some of the rampant recidivism. The winners always want to end the game. The losers are always crying "deal."

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