Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, a longtime East Coast Teamsters chieftain and a prime suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, died Monday morning of a heart attack. He was 71.
Provenzano died at Lompoc District Hospital, near the federal prison where he was serving a 20-year term for racketeering, said Chuck LaRoe, spokesman for the maximum-security prison 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Provenzano had been confined to the hospital for treatment of congestive heart failure.
Provenzano, who cut a striking figure with his chiseled features and steel-gray hair, had been serving a 20-year, 11-month and 29-day sentence on two racketeering conspiracy offenses.
He was linked to the Hoffa mystery because on July 30, 1975, when the Teamsters boss disappeared, Hoffa was on his way to a Detroit meeting with Provenzano, who was then president of Teamsters Local 560 in New Jersey. Hoffa’s body was never found.
Hoffa and Provenzano reportedly had feuded when both were in federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., in the 1960s. Hoffa long was regarded as Provenzano’s mentor and it was thought that Hoffa had hoped to mend fences with Provenzano to aid Hoffa’s drive to regain power.
Police agencies over the years listed Provenzano as a soldier in the Genovese family. A New Jersey State Police report also said Genovese family members were “primary suspects in Hoffa’s disappearance.”
“The Mafia Encyclopedia,” written by Carl Sifakis, said Provenzano, who liked to refer to himself as “just a truck driver,” was responsible for Hoffa’s disappearance.
“According to the FBI reconstruction of the Hoffa murder, Tony Pro called the so-called peace parlay with Hoffa and then ordered him killed. Provenzano denied even being in Detroit at the time, and seemed to go out of his way to seal an airtight alibi,” the encyclopedia said.
(Provenzano was conspicuous at his New Jersey home the day of Hoffa’s disappearance.)
Hoffa’s was not the only mysterious death touched by Provenzano.
One of his rivals, Local 560 dissident Anthony Casellito, was garroted with piano wire 23 years ago. And all three Provenzano brothers, Anthony, Salvatore and Nunzio, have been imprisoned for a variety of crimes, including racketeering and extortion.
In an effort to clean up the union local, the federal government imposed controls two years ago. But last week the rank and file voted to return management of their local to Provenzano associates.
Provenzano’s labor career began when he was installed as shop steward in a trucking company in 1945. By 1950, he was a Teamster organizer and eventually became president of Local 560 at a salary of $100,000, half of which was bestowed on him in a 1962 vote when 98% of the union membership was absent.
It was an era when workers were beaten, their homes shot up at night and officials from rival factions disappeared, never to be seen again.
“The Mafia Encyclopedia” said Provenzano presided over bookmaking, numbers and loan sharking run by his business agents and stop stewards.
Prison spokesman LaRoe said Provenzano was sentenced to four years in prison by a judge in the federal court’s Southern District in New York on July 11, 1978, then on July 10, 1979, in the district of New Jersey to another 20 years.
Provenzano began his sentence at Lompoc on Nov. 18, 1980. Due to his advanced age and poor health, he had not participated in a prison work assignment for the last two years, LaRoe said.
The Starbuck-Lind Mortuary in Lompoc was handling funeral arrangements. Mortician Patrick Lind said the family, whom he declined to identify, asked that information about a funeral and burial be withheld.