July 30, 1999

My afternoon with Jimmy Hoffa's alleged killer

Copyright © 1999 by Dan E. Moldea

Dan E. Moldea is the author of the 1978 book, The Hoffa Wars.

  Jimmy Hoffa, the controversial ex-Teamsters boss, was last seen outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, an exclusive suburb of Detroit, at about 2:30 p.m. on July 30, 1975.

     According to members of his family, he had expected to meet with two Mafia figures, Anthony Giacalone of Detroit and Anthony Provenzano of Union City, New Jersey.  Neither man, who had well-established alibis for their whereabouts, showed up, leaving Hoffa in the lurch, waiting.

     Federal investigators still speculate--but have no proof--that Hoffa might have been picked up by his "foster-son," Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien, who was driving a car owned by Giacalone's son that day.  According to the government, O'Brien was probably not a witting conspirator in what was about to happen.  But, in the aftermath, federal agents believe that he did not tell the truth about his movements.  (During my 1978 interview with O'Brien, he flatly denied that he had picked up Hoffa.)

     Supposedly, at a private home just a few minutes from the restaurant, an assassin--identified by federal prosecutors as Provenzano henchman and Local 560 business agent Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio--ambushed the former Teamsters president.  Federal investigators speculate that two or three coconspirators may have witnessed Briguglio shoot and kill Hoffa.  Two of them have been identified as Gabriel Briguglio, Sal's brother; and Thomas Andretta, another Local 560 business agent.

     The government claims that the murder had been arranged by Provenzano, acting on the orders of Russell Bufalino, a northeastern Pennsylvania crime boss.  During the spring of 1975, Bufalino had been running New York's Vito Genovese Mafia family on an interim basis; Provenzano was a Genovese caporegime.

     Bufalino was in Detroit on the day of the murder to attend the wedding of his niece and goddaughter.  She was the daughter of his "cousin," Detroit attorney William Bufalino, who had represented Hoffa prior to 1967 when the two men had a falling out.  (In The Hoffa Wars, I also alleged that Frank Sheeran of Local 326 in Wilmington, Delaware--who drove Russell Bufalino to Detroit--was a co-conspirator and a witness to Hoffa's murder.)

     The reported details of the crime came from information supplied to government investigators by Ralph Picardo, a former driver for Tony Provenzano, who had been an inmate at Trenton State Prison since May 1975 when he was convicted of murdering a New Jersey loan shark.

     Picardo alleged that Hoffa's killers stuffed him into a 55-gallon drum, loaded him onto a truck, and shipped him to an unknown destination.

     Widespread speculation abound, everyone seems to have a theory as to Hoffa's whereabouts.  The fact is that no one, except for the people who disposed of Hoffa, know for sure.

     However, based on Picardo's information, government prosecutors subpoenaed Briguglio and his alleged coconspirators to appear before a federal grand jury in Detroit on December 4, 1975.  The alleged killer and his colleagues took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer any questions about their knowledge of the murder.

     After their appearance, Sal Briguglio became widely known as the suspected killer of the former Teamster leader.

    Just twenty-five years old at the time of Hoffa's disappearance, I had been a graduate student at Kent State University while working as an independent journalist since October 1974, writing free-lance stories about Teamster corruption, a subject that, at first, generated little media attention.

     However, after the Hoffa murder in July 1975, interest in the subject exploded, giving me immediate opportunities to write and consult for NBC News, The Detroit Free Press, and Jack Anderson.  Although I had concentrated my work on the union's extortion schemes and employer payoffs for labor peace in the mist of organizing campaigns--precipitated by the union's goon squads--I always stayed involved in the Hoffa case.

     I developed evidence that one of these goon squads had been responsible for a series of violent acts revolving around Hoffa's Local 299 in Detroit.  These acts of bombings, shootings, and sabotage had continued and intensified right up to the week of Hoffa's murder.

     FBI agents and James P. Hoffa, Hoffa's attorney/son, believed that I had solved at least a portion of the Local 299 violence.  As a result, I received a chunk of money from the designated Hoffa Reward Fund--administered by young Hoffa.

     In October 1976, as part of my independent investigation, I drove from Michigan to New Jersey to pursue the New Jersey angle.  Soon after my arrival, I called the union headquarters of Provenzano's Local 560 in Union City and asked to speak with the 48-year old Salvatore Briguglio.

     To my surprise, Briguglio, who had never been interviewed, took my call.

     "What do you need?"  Briguglio barked.

     "I want to interview you, sir," I replied.

     "What about?"

     "The Hoffa murder."

     "What makes you think I have anything to say about that?"

     "Because, Mr. Briguglio, you have neither been arrested nor indicted, and yet you are still being accused of murdering Jimmy Hoffa.  I think that the government might be violating your civil rights."

     In fact, I had never met a mobster or mob associate who wasn't against wiretapping or in favor of strong personal privacy laws.  By my understanding of this, many underworld characters had agreed to talk to me in the past.  Thus, early in my career as a crime reporter, I had repeatedly heard mob guys complaining about the alleged impingements upon their rights and freedoms by, among others, the FBI and the IRS.

     True to form, Briguglio, who put me on hold for a minute or so, came back and said firmly, "Be here on Monday, October 25th, 12:00 noon.  Ask for me at the receptionist's window."

     At the appointed time, I arrived at the offices Local 560.  Asking for Briguglio and being directed into a waiting room filled with bowling and softball trophies, I nervously skimmed magazines months out of date.  After about a twenty-minute wait, Briguglio came through the door.  Following close behind was his attorney, William Bufalino.

     I had known the boisterous, glad-handing, and heavy-set Bufalino from my earlier work in Detroit, so he was particularly cordial when we shook hands.  Briguglio, a small and wiry man, was more laid back, just staring and sizing me up.

     "Join us for lunch across the street," Bufalino said cheerfully.

     I smiled and nodded.

     We then climbed abroad a small elevator in which I had to crouch my six-foot-four-inch frame.  I remembered that the elderly elevator operator, Anthony Sibato, had been one of Tony Provenzano's alibi witnesses for the day Hoffa disappeared.  When the elevator door opened, we were in the midst of a basement parking garage.

     "I thought we were just going across the street," I whispered to Bufalino, somewhat pensively.

     "Yeah, but I thought we'd drive over," Bufalino replied.

     With some trepidation but total surrender, I stepped into the back seat of Briguglio's late-model Buick.  As I squirmed momentarily, Briguglio pressed a button that opened the garage door.  Within seconds, we were across the street in front of the restaurant.

     Inside, as the maitre d' led us down an aisle to a back room, I saw two other men seated at our table.  No introductions necessary, I already knew who they were.  The first was  Briguglio's brother, 31-year old Gabriel, the vice president of the Provenzano-controlled Local 84 in Fort Lee and one of Sally Bug's alleged coconspirators in the Hoffa murder; the second man was 40-year old Steve Andretta, a former Local 560 business agent and the brother of Tommy Andretta, another alleged witness to the killing.

     Thrilled by what I was in the midst of and simultaneously wolfing down my portion of the antipasto and a plate of linguini in clam sauce, I kept asking for permission to turn on the tape recorder in my pocket.  Bufalino refused each time, saying, "Later, Danny, later."

     After a 90-minute lunch, Bufalino and I left the restaurant and returned to Local 560.  This time we walked while Briguglio and Andretta drove over in Briguglio's car.

     Because of another appointment, Gabe Briguglio had to leave.  During the lunch, he insisted that he had nothing to do with the Hoffa murder; Tom Andretta, whom I talked to on the telephone that afternoon, also denied any role in the murder.

     Led into the local union president's office by Bufalino, I finally pulled out my tape recorder and laid it on the table in full view of the others who soon walked in.  Salvatore Provenzano--Tony's brother and the president of the local, who had not been present for the lunch--joined us, as did Sal Briguglio and Steve Andretta.

     For the next three-and-a-half hours, I recorded the first and only taped interview with the man suspected to have murdered Jimmy Hoffa.

     Briguglio was loud and defiant, refusing to admit that he had been involved in the Hoffa murder while I kept trying to prod him into a confession.  Ever protective of his client, Bufalino, never known to be shy, kept trying to deflect the interview away from Briguglio's alleged guilt and toward the government's allegedly illegal tactics to gather information--the subject I had supposedly come there to discuss.

     In response to my question about who was paying Bufalino's legal bills for his representation of Hoffa's alleged killers, the attorney replied, "If someday they have some money, they can pay me.  If Hoffa were here right now, he'd say, 'Continue to defend these people.  They weren't the ones who did it.'"

     Also, I asked Bufalino whether his family relationship with mob boss Russell Bufalino was the reason he had been selected as counsel for them.  Bufalino shot back, "If you want to charge me with something regarding Russell Bufalino, charge me with the fact that I selected him as my number-one friend.  I would rather be accused of being his friend and brother by choice, not by an accident of birth."

     When I inquired of Salvatore Provenzano why his brother, Tony Pro, was being accused of engineering the Hoffa murder, he blanched, "Jimmy and my brother were friends to the very end. . . . I have seen letters that Jimmy sent to Tony, but I can't show them to you.  They burnt up when Tony's house went up in flames."

     Turning to Briguglio, I said, "You are the main man in this whole thing.  You're the person everyone alleges blew [Hoffa's] head off.  How do you react to these allegations?"

     Briguglio responded coolly, "They're very, very serious allegations.  And I'm very, very concerned about them, of course. But I know since I had nothing to do with it, I'm not too concerned about it.  But I'm still being hurt by the publicity that's being generated by it. . . . That's [the government’s] game plan: subpoena after subpoena.  They haven't stopped; they aren't ever going to stop."

     Distressed about being recently indicted for a sixteen-year old murder of a union rival, Briguglio continued, "[The government] will say, 'Although we didn't solve the Hoffa mystery, in order to justify the grand jury, we got this guy indicted on that, and the other guys on the other thing.'  In the meantime, the Hoffa grand jury is going to fizzle out. . . . So, if you're asking me if I'm worried, the answer is, 'Yes.'  I'm very, very worried and very, very concerned."

     I then asked Briguglio how he came to be identified as Jimmy Hoffa's killer.  He explained that in early-December 1975, federal agents had roused Tony and Salvatore's brother, Nunzio Provenzano, the secretary-treasurer of Local 560, out of bed.  Armed with subpoenas, the agents demanded access to a filing cabinet in the union hall often used by Sal Briguglio.

     "They were looking for two .38s with silencers," Briguglio explained.  "They came in; they didn't find any."

     While government investigators searched through the union hall, other federal agents converged on the Garden State Bank across the street, holding subpoenas and demanding access to safety-deposit boxes that had been rented by Steve Andretta and Gabe Briguglio.

     "This box I had only opened up two days prior," Andretta told me.  "This was the first time in my life I had opened a safety-deposit box."  He added that he used it to store his jewelry: two watches and two rings.

     "You know what they found [in Gabe's safety-deposit box]?"  Briguglio asked.  "A sock, an old sock with some old coins in there.  That's all they found.  So that's another blank.  God knows what they were looking for, the bastards, what they expected to find in there."

     However, he knew as well as I did: the FBI was looking for the weapon used to kill Jimmy Hoffa.

     Pressing Briguglio and Andretta as to how federal agents knew to target the union file cabinet and the safety-deposit boxes, Andretta, somewhat sheepishly, replied, "They asked me about my visit to prison."

     In August 1975, Andretta had visited informer Ralph Picardo, an old friend, in the readjustment unit of the prison hospital at Trenton State Penitentiary.  Andretta and Picardo talked on telephones and could see each other through a thick glass barrier.

     Federal agents have alleged that during this visit, Andretta gave up the details of the Hoffa murder to Picardo.  After receiving this information, Picardo made a beeline to the closest federal prosecutor and tried to make a deal to get out of prison.

     During his subsequent appearance before the federal grand jury, Andretta testified under a forced grant of immunity.  "I was highly insulted," Andretta told me.  "[I] never discussed anything about Hoffa with Picardo. . . . Picardo is trying to use us to bargain his way out of jail."  Consequently, cited with contempt for refusing to answer questions, Andretta spent sixty-three days in Michigan's Milan Prison.

     I asked Andretta what he was asked during the grand jury hearing.  Andretta replied, "What did Sal [Briguglio] do with [Hoffa's] body?  What did my brother do with the body?  What did Tony Provenzano do with the body?  What did Gabe Briguglio do with the body?"

     After Andretta's release, Tony Provenzano threw a party for him and gave him a new Cadillac.

     "They spent ten million dollars trying to throw Hoffa in jail," Andretta said bitterly.  "And now they've spent a figure close to it, trying to find out what happened to him.  And they're trying to get anybody involved in it for whatever reasons they want.  They're very embarrassed."

     When I asked Briguglio--who revealed that he had been identified as a "target" of the Hoffa probe during a September 8, 1975 solo appearance before the federal grand jury in Detroit--where he was at the time of Hoffa's disappearance, he replied that he was playing Greek rummy in the Local 560 union hall with his two alleged coconspirators, Gabe Briguglio and Tom Andretta, as well as Tony Provenzano and other union officials.

     However, later on in the interview, Briguglio, who said he had personally known Hoffa "very well", contradicted that version, saying that he had left Local 560 earlier in the day because of a flaring pain in his mouth after oral surgery the previous day.

     In a final denial to committing the murder, Briguglio said, "I wish they would find out who did it, so they would take the heat off me and Tony [Provenzano].  Other than that, I don't even know if the guy is dead. . . . The government is on a fishing expedition.  I don't know anyone in the world who would want to hurt Jimmy.  He wasn't a threat to anyone to my knowledge.

     "There has to be law enforcement--but not like this when they go out and solicit phony witnesses to make a target out of certain individuals.  What [the FBI] wants is a Briguglio or a Provenzano, any name they can build up.  They build you up to knock you down, so they can make a name for themselves."

     My interview with Briguglio is now exclusive.

     On March 21, 1978, two unidentified men walked up to Briguglio in New York's Little Italy and knocked him to the sidewalk.  Then, they pulled out their guns and shot him five times in the head and once in the chest.  The murder remains officially unsolved.

     I had again talked to Briguglio in another recorded interview just days before his murder.  Many, including his bosses in the underworld, believed that Briguglio, who was under indictment for the murder of a union rival, was on the verge of flipping.

     During that final interview, Briguglio--worn and tired, showing the strain of the enormous federal pressure he was under--told me, "I've got no regrets, except for getting involved in this mess with the government.  If they want you, you're theirs. . . . I have no aspirations any more; I've gone as far as I can go in this union.  There's nothing left."

     Twenty-four years later--although the case officially remains unsolved--the government still believes that Salvatore Briguglio murdered Jimmy Hoffa, and so do I.

Photo credit:
Salvatore Briguglio:  Detroit News