November 19, 2019 — Reputed Gambino crime family soldier Joe Isgro, a powerful player in the music business for years dating back to the 1970s, gave Jimmy Hoffa the Hollywood treatment long before Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Netflix got into the game. The 72-year old Isgro produced the 1992 film Hoffa, starring Jack Nicholson that despite his riveting portrayal of the slain Teamsters boss got lukewarm reviews and lost money at the box office.
Isgro is allegedly the Gambino’s representative on the west coast. He did three years in prison for running a loansharking racket out of his Beverly Hills office (2000-2003), giving out juice loans (charging 5% interest a week) to a clientele made up mostly of people in the entertainment industry. In 1990, he was indicted for racketeering and money laundering tied to a payola conspiracy that was eventually tossed for prosecutorial misconduct and in 2014, Isgro was arrested for bookmaking out of New York. His uncle was one-time Gambino consigliere Joseph (Joe Piney) Armone.
Scorsese’s The Irishman debuted in theatres this month to widespread critical acclaim and will land on Netflix on November 27. The film chronicles the friendship between Hoffa, played by Pacino and Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran, a Teamsters executive and mob hit man who dubiously claimed to have killed Hoffa and is portrayed by DeNiro. Sheeran confessed to the being the triggerman in the notoriously never-solved gangland hit right before he died of natural causes in 2003. Hoffa’s body was never found.
The book in which the confession went public in, I Heard You Paint Houses, was authored by Sheeran’s attorney, Charlie Brandt, and acted as the source material for the movie’s script. The FBI and most experts on the Hoffa murder investigation dismiss Sheeran’s claim and instead point to either members of the Detroit mafia or the New Jersey wing of New York’s Genovese crime family as the “hitters.”
Hoffa, the most powerful labor union leader in the history of America, disappeared on the afternoon of July 30, 1975 from a suburban Detroit restaurant parking lot on his way to meet Detroit mob street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Genovese capo Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano for a sit down to settle a beef between him and Tony Pro. The one-time allies were in a bitter feud and Hoffa needed Provenzano’s support in his attempt to reclaim the Teamsters presidency after relinquishing the post five years earlier in order to get out of prison via a sentence commutation from the Nixon White House. Nobody has ever been arrested in the case and the FBI and Michigan State Police are still actively pursuing the investigation.
Isgro was the first person intent on telling the Hoffa story on the big screen. Using a script penned by legendary screenwriter David Mamet, the movie was directed by and co-starred Danny DeVito. The $35,000,000 budgeted project was produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox Pictures. Hurt by middling reviews, the movie only brought in $30,000,000 in receipts. Nicholson’s performance was lauded though and he got a Golden Globes Awards Best Actor nod. DeVito played a fictionalized character named Bobby Ciaro, seemingly a composite of Detroit Teamster Bobby Holmes and Hoffa’s surrogate son Chuckie O’Brien.
Born in Philadelphia, Isgro served in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Marine and came home with a Purple Heart. He jumped into the world of record promotion and found success promoting such chart-topping superstars like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, U2, Elton John, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie, The Who, The Rolling Stones and many more successful rock and pop rock acts. Before going out on his own in 1979, Isgro was the Head of Promotions at Motown Records, Roulette Records and EMI.
Roulette Records was owned by New York mob associate Morris Levy, who was closely tied to the Genovese family. Motown founder Berry Gordy allegedly received a portion of the start-up financing for his iconic label from a small street loan provided by the Detroit mafia, according to FBI informants in the 1960s.