Tony Zerilli, an alleged underboss of one of Detroit’s biggest crime families, is breaking his silence in the infamous unsolved mystery about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
Zerilli, who recently spoke to NBC 4 New York, said the body of the former Teamsters leader can be found in a field in suburban Detroit -- about 20 miles north of the restaurant where he was last seen.
A United States federal agent described Zerilli as a former high-ranking member of the Detroit La Cosa Nostra family.
“He actually had risen up at one point to the underboss – or second in command,” Andy Arena, former head of the FBI for New York and Detroit, told NBC.
Hoffa disappeared in July 1975 after he told close family and friends that he was going to meet two men at a restaurant in suburban Detroit. Reports indicated that one man was a suspected member of the Detroit mafia while the other was a Teamsters boss from New Jersey. Hoffa, who’d been investigated for dealings with the mafia, was last seen at the restaurant and hasn't been found since.
Former U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett, who prosecuted organized crime in Detroit for 20 years, told NBC 4 in New York that Detroit's mafia families share blood relations in addition to their sworn bonds and that's one reason the mystery of what happened to Hoffa has gone unsolved.
Despite the silence and lack of solid leads in the missing Teamsters boss case, Corbett told the news network that “Organized crime was involved in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.”
In the exclusive NBC interview, Zerilli denied ever being in the mafia or having anything to do with the disappearance of Hoffa and said that he was crushed when Hoffa vanished. He told the network that it was news he received while behind bars after he was convicted for being involved in illegal operations in Las Vegas casinos.
“They accused me while I was away," Zerilli said of his time in prison. "If that’s not an alibi I don’t know what the hell an alibi is."
"If I wasn’t away I don’t think it ever would’ve happened, that’s all I can tell you," Zerilli said. "I would’ve done anything in the world to protect Jim Hoffa.”
Federal agents said that Zerilli has been unwilling to give up any names that might lead to an arrest in the case. The agents said that they believe that Zerilli might be one of the few men who actually knows where the body of Hoffa is buried.
“Clearly when he 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,” said Corbett.
Zerilli reportedly has been frustrated over the decades to watch the FBI chase countless tips from publicity-seeking hounds claiming to know Hoffa's whereabouts, according to his interview with NBC.
“All this speculation about where he is and he’s not," Zerilli said. "They say he was in a meat grinder. It’s all baloney."
Zerilli suggested that the union leader's final resting place is about 20 miles north of the restaurant where he was last seen, in a field in northern Oakland County, Mich. He was buried in a shallow grave and the plan was to move the body at another time, but Hoffa's remains were never moved from the first spot where they were buried, Zerilli said.
"Once he was buried here, he was buried and they let it go,” Zerilli said.
When notified of Zerilli’s willingness to come forward, Corbett said he was was surprised.
“The bureau had a short list of people they wanted to talk to about that and I can’t think of anybody on that list who was more highly placed then Anthony Zerilli,” said Corbett. "This is certainly the most interesting and attractive lead that has come up since I’ve been involved with this -- and I think the bureau would react the same way.”
Although Zerilli has said that he's simply seeking closure for himself and Hoffa’s family, he's also working on a book and has a web site – HoffaFound.com, the NBC report said.
“I’d like to just prove to everybody that I’m not crazy," Zerilli said. "And it means a lot to me. 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.”
Speaking with the FBI field office in Detroit, a media coordinator for the division had no comment on the investigation.
My name is Carey Vanderborg and I'm a journalist working in New York City. I love food, travel, craft beer, live music and writing about all of the above.