From the driver’s seat: My conversations with Jimmy Hoffa’s former driver

Jimmy Hoffa disappeared without a trace after making a call home from a pay phone on July 30, 1975. It’s been 43 years, but one of his associates told me what it was like working for the notorious leader of the Teamsters.

Marvin “The Weasel” Elkind will tell you driving for the mob was an education. Marvin learned to keep his mouth shut and mind his own business early on. He was nicknamed “The Weasel” from his boxing days because he was nimble like a weasel. His friends had no idea just how suitable that moniker was. Marvin would become a police informant. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“Begin at the wheel for Mr. Hoffa, you heard things. Most of the things you heard … you never heard – understand?”

It 1957, Marvin was working at the Copacabana in NYC. Mobsters would often come in and spends lots of money. Most of the waiters were afraid of them, but not Marvin. He loved the way they tipped! It was big money. The mobsters took a liking to the kid. One day Tony Salerno, AKA “Fat Tony,” walked into the bar with other mobsters and told Marvin, “Friday is your last day.”

Marvin was confused because he thought he had done such a good job for them. The mobsters explained he was leaving the Copa to become Jimmy Hoffa’s personal driver.

Marvin said, “I don’t want to be Mr. Hoffa’s driver,” and the response from Salerno was, “Nobody asked you”!

They told Marvin that there were a few reasons why they selected him, one being that he was a fighter and could handle trouble if it came along. Another reason was that he was respectful and kept his mouth shut about things he may have overheard. Marvin was also Canadian and wouldn’t be drafted by the military like Hoffa’s last driver.

Jimmy Hoffa was a powerful man. As the head of the Teamsters, he held much of America’s workforce in his hands. As his driver, Marvin literally had a front row seat to the business that took place in the long black four-door Cadillac.

Mr. Hoffa knew mobsters were impressed by big fancy cars, so he always had the newest, nicest cars available. He had the windows and windshield fitted with heavy plated glass, which impressed mobsters such as Vito Genovese and Sam Giancana.

Jimmy Hoffa, right, Teamster Union president, shields his microphone as he confers with his attorney, Bennett Williams during his appearance before the McClellan Senate Rackets Investigation committee in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 1958. Hoffa accused the committee with trying to destroy the Teamsters Union. (AP Photo/William J. Smith)

Mr. Hoffa only did business deals in two places: his car or a restaurant he trusted. He never did deals in his office because he believed it was bugged.

As the driver, Marvin was required to do two things every morning before picking up “Mr. Hoffa” as he still refers to him: wash the car and have it searched for listing devices. Hoffa also had a police officer he paid under the table to search his car every morning.

Hoffa told Marvin he never wanted to hear that there was “rain, wrecks, construction he was to be on time every time – no excuses”. Marvin said that Hoffa made it clear if he was ever late he would be “hurt.”

“I’m known for being on time even today,” Marvin said.

Mr. Hoffa, according to Marvin, had no sense of humor and rarely smiled. He required his workers to address him as Mr. Hoffa or Sir.

“He was no Uncle Jimmy type of guy.”

Hoffa, however, was devoted to family and the Union. Marvin said Hoffa worked Monday through Friday, but weekends were for family.

“Not sure of what order but he was loyal to his family and to the Union and l took care of both.”

Hoffa had great respect for family. He insisted that Marvin fly back home to Canada for the Jewish Holidays and gave him an extra week of vacation time so he could go.

One of the restaurants Hoffa trusted was Wally Fox’s. This was a place known for allowing “business deals” to go down inside and outside. It was not uncommon to have stolen merchandise fenced, mob meetings hosted, and to pay a police officer on Mafia payroll during lunch at Wally Fox’s’. Hoffa always had a table waiting on him. The table was always checked before he sat down.

Two weeks before Hoffa’s disappearance, federal investigators discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars had been stolen from the Teamsters’ largest pension fund. According to Marvin, the Mob would borrow the money from the pension fund, then put it out on the streets and make money off loan sharking.

“They always paid the money back – always. But they would use it to make more money for the Mob,” Marvin explained.

Another gangster, Sam Giancana, borrowed money from the Teamsters pension fund and loan sharked it on the street. The mob was making money – big money off this scheme and they were not going to give up the easy cash. Marvin believes that Giancana was killed by the FBI.

Hoffa also had ties to President Kennedy. Hoffa according to Marvin “hated Bobby – zero respect for him”.

“They were scared he would talk about the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy,” Marvin said.

Authorities pursued Hoffa with the full power of the Office of the President and the Justice Department. Hoffa was convicted for Racketeering and served 58 months in prison. He would be pardoned by President Nixon years later.

Smiling Jimmy Hoffa leaves the Federal Building in Nashville, Tenn., June 7, 1962, following his arraignment on a charge of violating the Taft-Hartley act. A passing truck driver called to Hoffa and he answered with a big wave. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly)

Hoffa tried to separate the Teamsters from the Mob once, but it did not go well. Hoffa was told by Vito “The Don” Genovese that he could not “break ties with the Mafia.”

It is widely believed and accepted that Jimmy Hoffa was killed. But why and by who remains a mystery. Mafia bosses Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano reportedly agreed to meet with Hoffa on the very day of his disappearance. Did they have something to do with his demise?

“Mr. Hoffa was fearless; that’s what got him killed.” -Marvin Elkind

Marvin had coffee with Hoffa the day before he went missing. He warned Hoffa that he could be in real danger. Hoffa stated, “my people won’t do me no harm”. Marvin believes Hoffa was killed because “he wanted the Teamsters back and he would have won if they had voted”. Marvin said Hoffa was “upbeat and aggressive” about returning to power.

How did Marvin know so much? The mobsters get caught up in their business and going places and usually don’t see the driver as a threat.

“You learn a lot because they forget the driver is there.”

Marvin said that gangster Nicky Scarfo, AKA “Little Nicky,” got the contract on Hoffa. Marvin does not believe Scarfo did the deal himself, but he had the contract.

Marvin was driving Tony Jack, a Capo and Union heavy, passed the hotel when he stated, “say good morning to Jimmy Hoffa boys!”

Marvin told me with conviction that Jimmy Hoffa was in the cornerstone of the Renaissance Centre Hotel in Detroit. It was important for Marvin to let me know that he was not “Mr. Hoffa’s driver when he was hit.”

“They called every Teamster carpenter off the job to come and complete the wooden forms for the concert at the hotel. That has never been done in the history of the Teamsters and it ain’t been done since. Mr. Hoffa was in Detroit, they rushed the pouring of the cornerstone, it was fast and rushed.”

Michigan State police and local authorities watch as a backhoe digs, searching for the body of missing ex-Teamster President James. R. Hoffa Sept. 28,1975. Authorities intensified their search in a 29-acre field and wooded area that day, excavating about half a dozen locations before halting at noon. (AP Photo)

John Gotti

Marvin, reminiscing about his days with the mob, and with family and his friends, told me that all he ever wanted to do was take care of his girls.

“I would tell me daughters if you have a problem you come to me – I will solve it”! There was a long pause and he stated, ‘Sweetheart did I ever tell you about the call from John Gotti”?

Marvin got a call one day from John Gotti. He told him to fly down and pick him up in Queens and drive him for the day and he would pay him $5,000. Marvin did as he was requested to do. He picked up Gotti and an associate and drove them to Sparks Steakhouse.

Gotti told him to drive a park a block away from the restaurant. Marvin said both men got out of the car and Gotti said, “stay right here till we get back.”

Marvin said he watched Gotti and his associate who he knew was Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, walk toward the steakhouse. He heard yelling and commotion and saw Paul Castellano drop to the ground. Marvin said Gotti watched as four guys in fur coats killed Castellano.

Gotti got back to the car and said, “Drive!”

When I asked Marvin if he would drive today if he could without hesitation that he would.

“Yea I drive today. It’s a dangerous life to make money to survive. You pay for it later one way or the other. The mistake I made was letting them keep me in my role – the driver.”

They kept him in his role as a driver and never allowed Marvin to advance in the Mafia. Perhaps this lead to his becoming a double agent?

Marvin later became a police informant for the FBI, Scotland Yard, RCMP and the Mexican Federales.

“I walked right into mob meeting wearing a wire because I had more balls than brains – sorry for talking that way honey but it’s the truth,” Marvin told me, laughing. “Honey, I was first arrested at 11. I know a lot of bad people and all the bad things they done,”

But Marvin has also done good deeds, too.  Besides helping law enforcement, he has saved lives. He saved Hoffa once.

Marvin was driving Hoffa to a meeting with mobster Albert Anastasia to a local barbershop. Once they arrived, something did not look right to Marvin. He told Hoffa that there was a station wagon he did not recognize, normally not parked there, and a van down the street that he had never seen.

“Sweetheart I just did not like it,” Marvin explained to me.

Marvin advised Hoffa not to go in. So, Marvin called Mr. Anastasia and told him Hoffa would not be coming in. There were no cell phones in those days, but Marvin had a massive antenna in the truck of his car for a telephone so, that he could make calls without getting out of the car.

I have talked with Marvin “The Weasel” Elkind numerous times since our friendship began, after mob expert and author, Dennis Griffin, introduced us. He is always upfront, open and sweet. He loves my Southern accent and often says, “I’m going to marry you sweetheart – you know that – just keep talking!”

Marvin and I are both married to wonderful loving spouses, but we did have a gigantic laugh about what our vows would be.

[Feature Photo: Marvin Elkind/Facebook]