A reputed former high-ranking mafia member in Detroit says he knows the answer to one of the country’s greatest unsolved mysteries. After decades of refusing to answer questions about the disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, 85-year-old Tony Zerilli claims he knows where the union leader's body is buried.
If anyone still knows the nearly 40-year-old secret, it would be Zerilli, said one former prosecutor.
Zerilli, said to have once been the underboss — or second-in-command — of the Detroit La Cosa Nostra family, says Hoffa was buried in a field about 20 miles north of where he was last seen in July 1975, NBC 4 New York reported
Monday. Hoffa reportedly told people he was going to meet with two men at a restaurant in suburban Detroit. One was an organized crime member and the other was a Teamsters boss from New Jersey. Hoffa was observed at the restaurant and then never seen again.
Zerilli claims Hoffa was buried in a shallow grave and the plan was to move the body at another time, but the remains were never moved from the first spot where they were buried.
Authorities have long held that organized crime was behind Hoffa's disappearance.
"I think the interesting thing about the Hoffa disappearance was that it was compartmentalized to only a few people," said Andy Arena, former head of the FBI for New York and Detroit. "They kept things quiet."
Former U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett, who prosecuted organized crime in Detroit for 20 years, believes the Zerilli lead is credible.
"Clearly when [Zerilli] returned he would've been a person, based on his position in the hierarchy, who would have been able to learn the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance of James Earl Hoffa," Corbett said.
Zerilli denies ever having been connected to the mafia or Hoffa's disappearance. "What happened to Hoffa had nothing to do with me in any way, shape or form," he told NBC 4 New York.
The gangster says he was behind bars when he heard about Hoffa's disappearance, serving time for being involved in illegal operations in Las Vegas casinos. Zerilli was questioned by feds after his release but always refused to name names. He chose to speak out now, he said, to set the record straight about his life.
"I'd like to just prove to everybody that I'm not crazy," said Zerilli, who launched hoffafound.com and is also reportedly working on a book. "What happened, happened while I was in jail. And I feel very, very bad about it and it should never have happened to Jim Hoffa. He didn’t deserve what happened to him."
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