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U.S. v. Hoffa: 1964

"get-hoffa Squad" Assembled

Robert Kennedy was appointed U.S. attorney general in 1960 by the newly elected president, his brother John F. Kennedy. Indicting Jimmy Hoffa was a high priority with the new attorney general, who claimed that Hoffa used extortion, bribery, and physical violence to rule the Teamsters. Robert Kennedy was equally sure that Hoffa used the threat of labor trouble to bully employers for personal profit. A small Justice Department unit of lawyers and investigators, informally known as the "Get-Hoffa Squad," was assembled to uncover and prosecute any unlawful activity within organized labor. By the time they disbanded, their conviction rate was impressive.

Yet Robert Kennedy's campaign against union corruption, and Hoffa in particular, raised questions about the role of an attorney general in prosecuting crimes. The constant investigations resembled a vendetta to those who suspected Kennedy's motives. Some thought the attorney general was dogging Hoffa out of personal spite. Others questioned the ethics of the nation's chief law enforcement officer aggressively investigating an individual before evidence of wrongdoing presented itself.

Civil libertarians were concerned by Hoffa's never-proven but steady protests that he was a victim of illegal surveillance and paid government perjurers. The debate also included his union cronies, politicians under his control, and enemies of the Kennedys, all of whom exploited the situation.

One of the first major indictments against Hoffa focused on a Florida real estate development called Sun Valley. Federal prosecutors knew that Hoffa and others had secretly loaned union money to finance the project and secured further loans from local banks by promising them large union accounts. Sun Valley was promoted as a sunny retirement community for union members. In fact, Hoffa and his associate Owen Bert Brennan held an option to buy 45 percent of the development. By risking union funds, Hoffa and Brennan stood to make personal fortunes if the development proved successful.

Instead, Sun Valley remained an undeveloped disaster area. Hoffa was indicted for mail fraud and conspiracy, but the indictments were dismissed in 1961 when a Florida judge ruled that the grand jury issuing them had been improperly impaneled (a second set of indictments was approved but dropped as investigators incorporated their evidence into Hoffa's 1964 Chicago fraud trial).

Hoffa was next indicted for violating the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibits employee representatives from accepting illegal payoffs from employers. The government charged that a Michigan trucking firm, Commercial Carriers, had organized a Nashville, Tennessee, business called Test Fleet for the sole purpose of avoiding labor trouble with Hoffa's union. As soon as the new business was incorporated—in the maiden names of Hoffa's and Brennan's wives—Commercial Carriers leased all of Test Fleet's trucks and assumed all of their operating expenses, making the venture's income a pure profit for its "owners."

Hoffa claimed that putting the business in his wife's name was a legal tax move. The 1962 case ended with a mistrial when jurors could not agree on a verdict. Yet Hoffa and five others were immediately indicted for tampering with the jury. The new case was moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in early 1964 when Hoffa's attorney was arrested (and ultimately convicted) for trying to bribe a police officer into offering a prospective juror $10,000 to ensure another hung jury.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972U.S. v. Hoffa: 1964 - "get-hoffa Squad" Assembled, Government Succeeds