Ex-Mob Prosecutor on Hoffa Dig: 'That's the Last One We'll Ever See'

June 19, 2013, 6:10 PM by  Allan Lengel

Keith Corbett, retired federal mob prosecutor

So maybe we’ve seen the last Jimmy Hoffa dig for a long long time. Perhaps ever.

On Wednesday, two days after it began, the FBI stopped rooting around for a skeleton in Oakland Township

Former mob federal prosecutor Keith Corbett said he doesn't expect to see another Hoffa dig in his lifetime, particularly since the feds are unlikely to ever have another ex-mobster of Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli’s stature come forward again.

"I think that's the last one,' he said.  “It’s embarrassing for the bureau.”

Over the years, authorities have dug up dirt and concrete looking for Hoffa, missing for 38 years. Each search came up empty.

The latest dig came as a result of a tip from Zerilli, who headed the Detroit mob for a short time and was eventually demoted to capo (captain). He's sometimes referred to as an underboss.

Zerilli was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s 1975 disappearance in Bloomfield Township. His father headed the Detroit Mafia back then.

Now frail, and sometimes appearing less than sharp, he claimed months ago that Hoffa was whacked with a shovel and buried alive in a shallow grave in a barn on a property at Buell and Adams Road in Oakland Township. The property was once owned by high-ranking mobster Jack Tocco.  

There was skepticism about his story among authorities, who still felt they had to follow up on a tip from the highest-ranking mob member to come forward. And he certainly knew people who had knowledge of Hoffa's disappearance.

Zerilli, 85, said he was broke and needs money. He set up a website to peddle a 21-page manuscript draft for a book and signed portraits.

“I guess Mr. Zerilli’s book is not going to be a best-seller,” Corbett said. 

'End of the Story Forever'

Zerilli’s attorney, David Chasnik, came to the Oakland Township site this past week and spoke to reporters. He  said in a phone interview Wednesday with Deadline Detroit: “It is what it is. What are you going to do?”

“I’m very disappointed. The FBI did a lot of work vetting the information. I would think it’s the end of the story forever.”

Jimmy Hoffa

He said he thought the FBI was going to search a broader area on the property, but instead limited the search to an area specified in a search warrant.

As for his client, he says:

“He still believes it’s there. He believes they just didn’t look in the right spot.”

Andy Arena, the former head of the Detroit FBI, says of Zerilli’s tip: “I think they had to take that information seriously and try to corroborate. Nothing in this cases ever surprises me. We’ve been down this road so many times."

Criticism Either Way

It’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” things, he reflected. If the FBI didn’t follow up, the media would have been very critical.

“At the end of the day, you have to do the right thing,” he said.

“I don’t think the guy lied,” Arena said of Zerillli. But he he noted that he’s 85, plus 38 years have passed and he may have mixed up the facts and  gotten things wrong. He said he may have simply guessed from all he was told  that the body was buried on the site in Oakland Township.

“He put two and two together and came up with seven,” he said.

Simon Shaykhet, a spokesman for the FBI in Detroit, said the bureau had about 40 employees out there every day, with support from officers from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and Bloomfield Township.

“All I can say is we conducted a thorough search of the area as stated in the search warrant and did not discover any evidence. Obviously, there’s some disappointment. We had hoped to reach a favorable conclusion.”

Tony Zerilli

'Full of Crap'

Greg Stejskal, who retired after 31 years with the FBI, and headed the Ann Arbor office, said he was skeptical of Zerilli’s tip from the get-go.

“Zerilli is full of crap,” he said. “In a way it would have been a relief if the body were found,” he said. “But I didn’t really think they were going to find it.”

He said “what source information we had, they destroyed the body quickly.” He said a lot was word of mouth, but the talk was that the body was destroyed in an incinerator or rendering plant.

“They knew without a body we couldn’t make a case for murder."

There was no way mobster Jack Tocco would have let anyone bury Hoffa on his property and leave him there, Stejskal added. “That would really be stupid.”

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