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U.S. v. Hoffa: 1964

"get-hoffa Squad" Assembled, Government Succeeds

Defendants: James R. Hoffa
Crimes Charged: First trial: jury tampering; Second trial: mail and wire fraud, conspiracy
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Harry Berke, James Haggerty, Jacques Schiffer, and Harvey Silets; Second trial: Daniel Ahearn, James Haggerty, and Maurice Walsh.
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: John Hooker and James Neal; Second trial: William Bittman and Charles Smith
Judges: First trial: Frank W. Wilson; Second trial: Richard B. Austin
Places: First trial: Chattanooga, Tennessee; Second trial: Chicago, Illinois
Dates of Trial: First trial: January 20-March 12, 1964; second trial: May 11-August 17, 1964.
Verdicts: Guilty, both trials
Sentences: First trial: 8 years imprisonment and $10,000 fine; second trial: four concurrent five-year terms

SIGNIFICANCE: U.S. Department of Justice prosecutions of union leader Jimmy Hoffa gave the nation a series of sensational corruption trials and a debate over the acceptable limits to which the government should investigate an individual.

The U.S. government's attempts to curtail the influence of organized crime in labor unions by prosecuting International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa failed for nearly a decade. By the time Hoffa finally went to prison, numerous trials had cost both sides a great deal of money and arguments over the ethics of the government's pursuit of Hoffa were commonplace.

The genesis of the Hoffa trials lay in the investigative work of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. During the late 1950s, the so-called McClellan Committee (chaired by Arkansas Senator John G. McClellan) put crooked union leaders, crime bosses, common thugs, and their victims before the public in televised hearings. Many of the most contentious exchanges took place between the committee's chief counsel, Robert F. Kennedy, and the feisty Hoffa, who was in line for the presidency of the powerful Teamsters union.

Even as the hearings began, Hoffa was indicted for illegal possession of McClellan Committee documents. Hoffa had allegedly handed attorney John Cye Cheasty $1,000 and promised thousands more if he would infiltrate the committee to obtain information. Instead, Cheasty revealed the bribery attempt to committee counsel Kennedy, who arranged to have Cheasty pass a list of

witnesses to Hoffa while FBI cameras rolled.

A reporter asked Kennedy what he would do if Hoffa was not convicted. "I'll jump off the Capital dome," replied Kennedy, who was convinced that the filmed transaction gave the Justice Department a perfect case. When the trial ended with a hung jury, Teamsters attorney Edward Bennett Williams offered to send Kennedy a parachute. The growth of a mutual animosity between Kennedy and Hoffa was clear to an entire nation watching their public feud.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972