DETROIT -- A longtime aide to Jimmy Hoffa who wrote a book claiming federal agents abducted the former Teamsters president said in an interview he may be able to identify one of three men who grabbed the union boss in 1975.
Joseph Franco, who was a longtime organizer and strong-arm man for Hoffa, told United Press International in an interview that he believes Hoffa's disappearance was a 'covert operation' by the government. He says he witnessed the abduction.
Franco also said he could establish the truth of his eyewitness account of Hoffa's abduction by taking a lie detector test.
The former Hoffa aide broke his 12-year silence in a new book, 'Hoffa's Man.' Franco says Hoffa was lured to his death by 'federal marshals or federal agents.'
'Stop and think,' Franco said. 'The four most powerful people in America this century have all been assassinated. Jimmy wasn't murdered. He was assassinated. I'm talking about leaders. Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.'
Hoffa voluntarily got into the back of a black Ford LTD after two men showed him identification cards on July 30, 1975, outside a suburban Detroit restaurant, Franco wrote. Franco said he watched the scene from a nearby shopping mall.
'I can take a lie detector test about the things I talked about in the book and they're true,' Franco told UPI. 'I'd take one today if I was offered (federal) immunity.'
David McKeon, a prosecutor with the Detroit Strike Force, refused comment on Franco's allegations.
The Hoffa aide said he saw three men -- one black and two whites - drive off with the former Teamsters president.
'The black guy I might (be able to identify from a mugshot) because I saw more of him then I did the two white guys,' Franco said. 'That was 12 years ago, and that's the part I apologize to to everybody. (But) if I would have came up then, I don't think my life would have been worth a plum (sic) nickel.
'You think they would have let me stand by and say 'Yeah, I saw three guys.' C'mon, you talk about Ollie North and the covert operation. That was a covert operation from start to finish. You think that if I were involved in that covert operation they'd let me walk around the streets? Bullshit!'
Franco said he believed Hoffa's disappearance was part of a conspiracy between then-Teamsters President Frank Fitzsimmons and President Richard Nixon. Both Nixon and Fitzsimmons possessed sufficient motive to get rid of Hoffa, Franco said, because they had much to lose if Hoffa recaptured the presidency of the nation's largest union.
'It had to be (a conspiracy) because I knew what Jimmy was waiting for (when he was taken away in the car),' Franco said. 'Jimmy and I met two weeks before. I went to Jim and Jim said, 'Sit still.' He says, 'I'm waiting for something. It cost me a million bucks.'
'He says, 'Any day Joe, any day.' He says, 'I would say within the next two or three weeks it should be delivered to me.' And they were depositions from (John) Mitchell, (John) Dean, (G. Gordon) Liddy.'
The depositions stated that after Hoffa signed a deal culminating in a presidential pardon from Nixon, a provision was added preventing him from involvement in the Teamsters until 1980, Franco said Hoffa told him.
Hoffa was then released from federal prison. But the additional last-minute provision made it appear that Hoffa had agreed to, and signed, the no-union-involvement deal, Franco said.
'There were five or six guys that were involved with the Nixon Watergate situation and they were involved with that (the Hoffa) deal,' Franco told UPI.
'Now if you were Fitz or you were Nixon, would you want to lose a billion-dollar treasury? Would you like to lose $10 million in contributions? Money talks.'
Franco said he is sure the men who abducted Hoffa were federal agents.
'If you were a salesman for 35 years, could you spot a buyer from a non-buyer?' Franco asked. 'You could spot it in a minute.
'You have a sixth sense,' Franco said. 'There is a thing about them if they go undercover like a narc, there's no way you can spot those guys. But if he's straight-forward and out of the office and he's a clerk or an investigator, you'll spot him in a minute.'
Franco said that after Hoffa was abducted from outside the restaurant he followed the car toward Pontiac-Oakland Airport. Franco said Hoffa may have been tricked into going to the airport to receive the documents he wanted.
'The only way he would leave the area wouldn't be by car,' Franco said. 'It would have to be by plane.'