3 minute read

U.S. v. Hoffa: 1964

Government Succeeds

The most damaging witness in the Chattanooga trial was Ed Partin, a Teamster officer and government informant. Partin had secretly told investigators that Hoffa had spoken to him about killing Robert Kennedy. Prosecutors were wary of Partin's motives and credibility, for he was under indictment for embezzlement in Louisiana. They nevertheless decided to trust him after he passed a lie detector test.

Partin's presence in Chattanooga was kept a secret until the moment he walked to the witness stand. As Hoffa visibly paled, Partin recalled the union president speaking in detail about how the Nashville jury had been tainted.

The defense protested that the government had placed Partin in the midst of the Hoffa camp to violate Hoffa's rights by spying for prosecutors in the Test Fleet case. The government noted that Hoffa himself had invited Partin to Nashville and that Partin's information has prompted investigations that led to the present trial only. "That son-of-a-bitch is killing us!" Hoffa shouted at his lawyers outside the courtroom.

Hoffa's lawyers fiercely cross-examined Partin about his own criminal record and tried to suppress his testimony, accusing him of being a paid government informer (prosecutors denied this). The defense grew abrasive, accusing the Justice Department of stealing union documents and accusing Judge Frank W. Wilson of bias in favor of the government. The judge kept his composure in spite of apparent attempts to prod him into losing his temper and forcing a mistrial.

Federal prosecutor James Neal called the bribery conspiracy "one of the greatest assaults on the jury system the country has ever known." Neal might have said the same thing about the current trial, for amazing stratagems were being used to force a mistrial. Defense lawyers eavesdropped on the jury room. Bribed bellhops falsely swore that the sequestered jurors were drunk.

Hoffa's attorney, James Haggerty, called the government's case "a foul and filthy frame-up" designed by the "Get-Hoffa Squad." Defense attorney Jacques Schiffer threw a handful of coins at government prosecutors. "Take these thirty pieces of silver and share them—you have earned them."

While two of his co-defendants were acquitted, Hoffa and three others were found guilty. "You stand here convicted of seeking to corrupt the administration of justice itself," Judge Wilson told Hoffa before sentencing him to eight years in prison and fining him $10,000. Defense attorney Schiffer was sentenced to 60 days in prison for contempt.

Two months later, Hoffa went on trial in Chicago, Illinois, for fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors charged that he and seven co-defendants had approved $20 million in loans from the Teamsters pension fund to real-estate developers. In returns, the developers paid $1.7 million in kickbacks when the loans were approved. The scheme was originated to pay off Sun Valley's creditors. The Chicago trial, however, revealed that Hoffa and the others had not restricted their activity to repaying the union's hidden loss in the Florida fiasco.

After 13 weeks of complex testimony, Hoffa was found guilty on four of the 20 counts against him. Judge Richard B. Austin sentenced him to five years imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently after he finished the eight-year jury-tampering sentence.

Hoffa appealed all the way to the Supreme Court without success. He entered a federal penitentiary in 1967 and served five years before President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence in 1972.

Hoffa paid minimal attention to a condition of his parole forbidding involvement in any union activities until 1980. He disappeared in Detroit, Michigan, on July 30, 1975, and was presumed to have been murdered. His body has never been found.

The Hoffa name did not disappear from the ranks of the Teamsters when Jimmy Hoffa vanished. His son, James Hoffa, a Detroit lawyer, ran for the presidency of the union in 1996, but was narrowly defeated by Ron Carrey. However, Carrey was forced out of the presidency after a federal investigation revealed that his campaign had benefited from illegal fund-raising schemes. James Hoffa ran again in 1998 and was easily elected to head the union his father had once made so powerful.

Thomas C. Smith

Suggestions for Further Reading

Hutchinson, John. The Imperfect Union: A History of Corruption In American Trade Unions. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970.

Kennedy, Robert F. The Enemy Within. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.

Navasky, Victor S. Kennedy Justice. New York: Atheneum, 1971.

Sheridan, Walter. The Fall And Rise of Jimmy Hoffa. New York: Saturday Review Books, 1972.

Additional topics

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