September 25, 2019 — The FBI knows Chuckie O’Brien wasn’t involved in the disappearance and murder of his surrogate father, famed labor union boss Jimmy Hoffa and suspects a deceased Detroit mob button man was the triggerman in the iconic unsolved mystery, per a new book out this week penned by O’Brien’s stepson. Harvard University Law School professor and one-time Department of Justice attorney Jack Goldsmith was raised by O’Brien as a youth and wrote the much-talked about book titled “In Hoffa’s Shadow,” after nearly a decade of research interviewing several of the FBI agents who worked the case and O’Brien himself.
Goldsmith’s book, called “riveting” by the Washington Post in a glowing review, further dispels the story being put forth in the upcoming Martin Scorsese-directed movie, The Irishman, starring Al Pacino as Hoffa and Robert DeNiro as Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran, an east coast hit man who claimed he was the shooter in the Hoffa slaying before he died in 2003. Jesse Plemons plays O’Brien.
According to In Hoffa’s Shadow, the feds are aware of who killed Hoffa and it isn’t Sheeran. Declining to fully identify the assassin, Goldsmith has gone on-record in interviews promoting his book that the shooter was a “low level member of the Detroit crime family in the 1970s who rose to prominence (in the mafia later in the life) and is no longer alive.”
Hoffa was kidnapped and killed on the afternoon of July 30, 1975, last seen leaving a Bloomfield Township, Michigan restaurant parking lot in a brand-new maroon-colored Mercury Marquis. At the time of his death, the fiery labor chief was feuding with his former allies in the mafia over his desire to reclaim the presidency of the goliath, mafia-dominated Teamsters union, an organization he led for 14 years before relinquishing the reins while serving a federal prison sentence for fraud, bribery and jury tampering. He was also in a personal beef with O’Brien.
Nobody has ever faced charges in Hoffa’s murder and the investigation is ongoing, despite, most, if not all, of the conspirators in the homicide being dead and Hoffa’s remains never being unearthed. News of even the smallest breaks in the case still garner worldwide headlines. The government has spent tens of millions of dollars in its quest for concrete answers that have never quite come to fruition.
O’Brien, today 84 and living in Florida, has long been tied to the crime because he was in possession of the car Hoffa was last seen alive traveling in. Investigators traced Hoffa’s DNA to the backseat and trunk of the Mercury Marquis belonging to the son of Detroit mafia street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone. Hoffa was on his way to a sit down with Giacalone, his direct contact in organized crime circles for decades, when he went missing. Tony Jack’s youngest son, Joseph (Joey Jack) Giacalone, owned the car, which today remains the only piece of physical evidence ever collected in the case.
Goldsmith reveals in his book that FBI agents have dismissed O’Brien as a suspect and in 2013 offered to provide him an official letter clearing him of any wrongdoing in Hoffa’s murder if he agreed to sit for an extensive interview regarding his knowledge of the case and its major players. O’Brien did the interview that year, but the FBI never provided the letter of exoneration.
Chuckie O’Brien was born in Kansas City to Missouri mob figure Sam (The Binger) Scaradino, also known as “Charlie O’Brien,” from his days as a boxer, and aspiring model, singer and actress Sylvia Pagano, who went by the stage-name Sylvia Paris. Scaradino was a driver and bodyguard for Kansas City mafia boss Charlie Binaggio.
Pagano moved to Detroit and had romantic relationships with powerful Motown mobsters Frank (Frankie Three Fingers) Coppola and Tony Giacalone. She also had a love affair with Hoffa. Through Pagano, Hoffa cemented his own relationship with organized crime in Michigan and used it to rise through the ranks of the Teamsters until he took the presidency in 1957 with the aid of Detroit’s Tocco-Zerilli crime family.
Hoffa moved O’Brien into his home and raised him as a son. Tony Giacalone acted as a father figure to him as well. O’Brien eventually went to work for Hoffa in the Teamsters and became a go-between for the man he called dad and the union’s rank-and-file.
Hoffa and O’Brien had a bitter falling out in the year preceding Hoffa’s murder though when Hoffa refused to support O’Brien’s candidacy for vice president of Local 299, Hoffa’s home base in Detroit. Things went south fast and O’Brien allegedly began spreading rumors that Hoffa was an FBI informant and Hoffa reportedly tried to get O’Brien transferred to a Teamsters outpost in Anchorage, Alaska as punishment for his disloyalty.
This is what we know for sure about O’Brien’s movements the day Hoffa was slain 44 years go via FBI and Michigan State Police documents: On the morning of Tuesday, July 30, 1975, O’Brien picked up the Mercury Marquis from Joey Giacalone at Joey Jack’s Macomb County office and then drove it west to Oakland County, delivering a giant salmon to Teamsters executive Bobby Holmes at Holmes’ home in Farmington, Michigan – a present sent from the Teamsters in Seattle – and finally bringing the vehicle to Tony Giacalone’s headquarters at the Southfield Athletic Club in Southfield, Michigan, roughly seven miles away from the Red Fox restaurant where Tony Jack was supposed to meet Hoffa at 2:00 p.m.
The FBI believes O’Brien gave up possession of the Mercury Marquis at the athletic club to the elder Giacalone between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. and Giacalone in turn, without O’Brien’s knowledge, provided the car for the hit team he assembled to handle the Hoffa murder contract to use, according to Gangster Report sources. Goldsmith’s new book names Detroit mob capo Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone, Tony Jack’s baby brother and a respected organized crime figure nationwide in his own right with allegedly dozens of gangland murders on his resume, as the driver of the car that scooped Hoffa at the Red Fox and transported him to his slaughter.
O’Brien has often been pointed to as the driver of the car in Hoffa’s kidnapping in the narrative that has developed since that fateful day in 1975. But that scenario, while easy to picture at first glance, is unlikely to have played out for two main reasons. O’Brien wouldn’t have been trusted enough by the mob to be used in such a capacity and Hoffa would not have felt comfortable getting into a car with him because they weren’t on speaking terms.
Billy Giacalone on the other hand…..
Billy Jack was unaccounted for that afternoon by the FBI and state police surveillance squads responsible for. tracking his daily movements. He had shook his tail at around 10:30 a.m. Hoffa had met with both Giacalone brothers twice at his home in the days prior.
Tony Giacalone never left the Southfield Athletic Club and staged a number of public sightings throughout the day in order to establish an alibi. Like his younger sibling, Tony Jack was considered a suspect in two dozen mob-related murders, but never indicted on homicide charges in his more-than half century on the streets. Tony Jack died of kidney failure in 2001. Billy Jack lasted until 2012, becoming underboss of the Detroit mafia in his latter years before dying of natural causes. Joey Giacalone is alleged to run the Giacalone crew these days.
O’Brien left Detroit for a Teamsters position in Memphis shortly after Hoffa vanished. He was banned from the Teamsters for his links to organized crime in 1991. Upon learning of Hoffa having an adopted son with an Irish surname, author Mario Puzo was inspired to use the real-life Hoffa-O’Brien relationship as the template for the relationship between fictional New York mafia Don Vito Corleone and his adopted son and consigliere Tom Hagen in the novel and screenplay for The Godfather.
If you dissect Goldsmith’s theory related to the actual triggerman in Hoffa’s execution, “a low level member of the Detroit crime family in the 1970s who rose to prominence (in the mafia later in the life) and is no longer alive,” it would appear he’s referencing recently-deceased Motor City mob consigliere Anthony (Tony Pal) Palazzolo.
Back in 1975, Palazzolo was just a soldier in the Tocco-Zerilli clan and protege of old-school capo Pete (Bozzy) Vitale, always considered by investigators one of Giacalones’ accomplices in coordinating details of the Hoffa hit. Tony Pal grabbed control of the Detroit mob’s Downriver crew in the 1980s and would climb all the way to the crime family’s No. 3 spot. He died of cancer earlier this year at 76.
During an undercover operation launched by the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the early 1990s targeting a money laundering business for drug dealers he was running, Tony Pal admitted on a wire he was in charge of disposing Hoffa’s body and he had stuffed the labor leader into a sausage auger at his Detroit Sausage Company in the city’s historic Eastern Market district. Palazzolo was convicted in the money laundering case in 1994 and did time behind bars.
When deposed Detroit mafia underboss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli went to the FBI in 2012, he told authorities Hoffa was killed by Palazzolo and Bozzy Vitale and buried on farm land owned by his cousins the Tocco brothers (“Black Jack” & “Tony T”) in Oakland Township, Michigan, a 25-minute car ride from the Red Fox in Bloomfield Township. Zerilli was in prison at the time and claimed Tony Giacalone filled him in on the specifics of the Hoffa hit after he got out of prison in 1978. Zerilli and Jack Tocco butted heads in the wake of the 1996 Operation Gametax case in which they were each found guilty at separate trials for racketeering.
Jack Tocco was the Detroit mob’s acting boss in 1975. Tony Tocco was a capo in the crime family at the time. They have always been suspects in the Hoffa case.
In a top secret ceremony hosted at an upscale hunting lodge near Ann Arbor four years later, Jack Tocco (d. 2014) was officially elected don, a post he held unchallenged for the next three and a half decades. Tony Tocco (d. 2012) was one of his primary advisors and acting boss during his reign.
Bozzy Vitale, the overlord of Detroit’s busy Greektown neighborhood — the city’s downtown nightlife district— was one of the capos who voted Tocco in as boss that day in June 1979, an inauguration photographed by the prying eyes of the FBI. Federal agents followed Vitale (d. 1997) to New York in the days after Hoffa was killed and snapped photos of him meeting with Genovese crime family street boss Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno at Salerno’s Palma Boys Social Club in East Harlem, presumably touching base with the “Commission” to report what went down on the hit in Detroit.
The 2013 dig of the Toccos former property in Oakland Township by way of Zerilli’s tip came up empty. Zerilli died of natural causes in 2015.