By Tammy Stables Battaglia, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT - The attorney for the tipster who led the FBI to a field in Oakland Township, Mich., on Monday said the former mobster is relieved and hopeful there will be an end to mystery of Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance.
Anthony J. Zerilli, who recently published a manuscript about his claims that is sold online at HoffaFound.com, told agents that mobsters buried Hoffa alive on the property in 1975, after kidnapping him from a Bloomfield Township restaurant.
Zerilli's lawyer, David Chasnick, said Zerilli has been waiting at least eight months for the FBI to follow up on his tip. Zerilli was in jail when Hoffa disappeared, but is the son of a Detroit mafia boss.
"Peace," Chasnick said is the reason Zerilli came forward. "Wanting to get it off his chest, and get peace for the family. His age - he's 85 years old, he's getting older. ... I think the people who are written about in the manuscript are deceased."
Chasnick said Zerilli, who lives in metro Detroit, came by the dig site Monday but was intimidated by the large amount of media gathered.
He said the claims are not part of a ploy to sell the Zerilli manuscript online.
"Obviously the FBI doesn't consider it's a ploy, or they wouldn't have gone to the trouble of getting an affidavit and a warrant," Chasnick said.
Zerilli describes himself as a good friend of the former Teamsters president. He claims he learned about Hoffa's disappearance from the "inner circle" of the Detroit mafia.
"There was an old house with an old barn on the property," Zerilli wrote, according to a copy of the manuscript handed out by a man near where FBI agents are digging. "As soon as they pulled near the barn, Hoffa was dragged out of the car, and bound and gagged. A shallow hole was already dug in the barn floor. He put up a fight, but he was easily overpowered. ...(One of the men) picked up a shovel and cracked Hoffa over the head with it. ...They threw him into the hole, and buried him alive. He wasn't shot, he wasn't stabbed, nothing like that. A cement slab of some sort was placed on top of the dirt to make certain he was not going to be discovered. And that was it. End of story."
Just after 11 a.m. Monday, a large truck pulling a trailer carrying a backhoe pulled onto the property. By 2 p.m., the digger was moving about the large, grassy field, surrounded by yellow police tape, a swarm of television satellite trucks and media waiting down the dirt road.
Detroit's FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Foley III told those gathered only that the dig was about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.
Hoffa's daughter, Barbara Crancer, a retired state judge in St. Louis, said the FBI called her Sunday to alert her of the search, and she's closely following it online. She said she hadn't heard Zerilli's story until he came forward several months ago.
"We never get our hopes up," said Crancer. "We'll just let the FBI do their job, and we'll see what happens. That's all we can do. I want everybody to know that I appreciate the FBI following up on this."
Former federal prosecutor Keith Corbett, who was also at the site Monday, said Zerilli may be the most credible person to come forward with information on Hoffa's disappearance.
"He would have been somebody who would have been in the position to know," said Corbett. "Any time you make an assessment that there's reasonably credible information, it would be irresponsible not to follow that down. You can't say 'Well, the chance is one-in-ten.' If you miss that one-in-ten, what have you done? And the bureau has been looking for Hoffa for so long, this is a lead they have to pursue."