Hoffa search revisits 30-year-old information

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DETROIT (AP) – While the hunt for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains has turned to property now known as Hidden Dreams Farm, the ailing prison inmate described as providing the tip that led to the latest search first told the FBI about the location 30 years ago, his former lawyer said.

Joseph J. Fabrizio told The Associated Press on Friday that in 1976 his client, Donovan Wells, “claimed to have some definite information – whether it was helpful or not, I have no way of knowing.”

A government investigator familiar with the FBI’s digging operation in Milford Township, about 30 miles northwest of Detroit, said Wells was not as forthcoming in 1976 as he has been recently.

Interest in Wells’ tip was heightened after the 75-year-old inmate passed a polygraph test. Authorities think he believes the story he’s telling, the investigator said.

The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity because some of his information comes from records that have been ordered sealed by a federal judge. Among them is an FBI affidavit detailing the basis for the search warrant used to dig up the ground on the horse farm.

Wells, who once lived on the property, was well-acquainted with former Teamsters official Rolland McMaster, who owned the property when Hoffa disappeared in 1975, Fabrizio said.

McMaster’s lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, said the farm was searched in the 1970s and nothing was found. He confirmed that FBI agents visited his 93-year-old client this week, but most of their conversation related to his farm.

Fabrizio said Wells owned a trucking company and was never a Teamsters official. “He knew everybody with the Teamsters, and I’m pretty sure they knew him,” he said.

Fabrizio said the information Wells offered the government during plea negotiations in 1976 involved heavy machinery and suspicious activity on the farm around the time of Hoffa’s disappearance on July 30, 1975.

Wells pleaded guilty in August 1976 and was sentenced to one year in federal custody in a case involving “theft from interstate shipment,” according to court records.

He pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. On Jan. 15, 2004, he was sentenced to 120 months in prison. He currently is housed at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Ky., and his projected release date is Dec. 27, 2012.

In a 2003 motion for a reduced sentence, Wells’ attorney said his client had a heart attack in 1994, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, suffered three strokes in 2002 and underwent a quadruple bypass in January 2003.

The Detroit Free Press reported Friday night that federal authorities sat on Wells’ recent tip for several months until a lawyer for Wells threatened to release the information publicly unless officials acted on the tip and followed through on a pledge to seek his early release from prison. The newspaper said the threat was made in a letter to U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy III late last year but did not identify the lawyer.

The AP left messages seeking comment from Murphy, and also from two men listed in court records as lawyers representing Wells: Christopher Kokkinakos and Thomas L. Howard.

At the horse farm, the FBI’s search was entering its fourth day Saturday. Agents were bringing in cadaver dogs, demolition experts, archaeologists and anthropologists and suggested investigators might remove one of the three barns.

Scientists who have conducted similar searches said they have many tools at their disposal, including ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic surveying devices along with shovels and probing devices. But unless they have a precise location, their task can be arduous.

“It is extremely difficult to find buried bodies,” said William Bass, professor emeritus of forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee and an expert on human decomposition. “I hope they find him, but the experience I’ve had is people will tell you there’s a body out there, but trying to find it is like a needle in a haystack.”



On the Net:

Detroit FBI: http://detroit.fbi.gov


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