The Hoffa Files: How This Tough Guy Made Las Vegas

It's one of the most enduring mysteries in American history. What happened to labor leader Jimmy Hoffa? The FBI believes Hoffa was murdered by mobsters back in 1975, in part because of what he knew about the mob in Las Vegas.

Now, someone has stepped forward to tell what really happened on the day Hoffa disappeared. The man who's talking says he's the person who pulled the trigger.

It isn't too often that a Mafia hitman comes forward to reveal details about murders carried out for organized crime. The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa was one of the biggest crimes of the last century, one with roots right here in Las Vegas.

The person who killed the teamster boss was someone Hoffa trusted. And in a deathbed confession, the hitman explained why Hoffa had to go.

Post your comments on The Hoffa Files blog

From the mid-50s through the mid-70s, Jimmy Hoffa was a rock star of organized labor, as well known as Elvis or the Beatles. His rapid ascent through the ranks of the Teamsters union was made possible, in part, by friendships Hoffa forged with high-ranking organized crime figures across the country. They helped keep Hoffa in power. In return, he allowed the mob to use the Teamsters pension fund as its own bank.

Hoffa appointed mob-connected businessman Allen Dorfman to administer the pension fund, which started making large loans to Las Vegas. Millions in Teamster dollars helped elderly mob figure Moe Dalitz to expand his casinos, including the Desert Inn and Stardust and to build Sunrise Hospital and the Boulevard Mall. Pension fund millions built Caesars Palace, Circus Circus, and many other resorts.

Former federal organized crime strike force prosecutor Stan Hunterton said, "It got the town started, before banks would loan money, before Wall Street and public debt funds were available, that's where you got money to start building casinos."

Charles Brandt/author and former prosecutor said, "But for Jimmy Hoffa, I don't think any of this would have happened."

Former prosecutor and homicide investigator Charles Brandt thinks Las Vegas should build a statue of Jimmy Hoffa considering the importance of the pension fund to the growth of the Strip. Brandt knows that Hoffa was no saint and that the labor leader was up to his neck in Mafia conspiracies. All of those Teamster loans came with unwritten strings attached, namely, the mob was allowed to install its own casino employees who skimmed millions of dollars.

Like the rest of the country, Brandt is fascinated by the disappearance of Hoffa in 1975. But unlike everyone else, Brandt says he knows what happened on that fateful day. The man who killed Hoffa, he says, is former Teamster official Frank Sheerhan. He knows because Sheerhan told him, as detailed in the book, "I heard you paint houses."

Brandt said, "In 1967, Jimmy Hoffa had become president of the Teamsters and he needed some muscle. He contacted mob boss Russell Buffalino, who was one of his closet allies in the Mafia, looking for muscle. Russell put Sheerhan on the phone, and the first words that Hoffa uttered to Sheerhan were 'I heard you paint houses,' and that means you kill people. The paint is the blood that spatters on the floor. And Sheerhan said, 'I do my own carpentry work too.' That means you dispose of the bodies."

Frank the Irishman Sheerhan, a mountain of a man, was a professional killer who worked mostly for Russell Buffalino, one of the top Mafia bosses in the country. In the 1970s, Sheerhan was listed as one of the only non-Italian Las Cosa Nostra figures in the U.S. In all, Sheerhan is believed to have murdered more than two-dozen people, most of them fellow mobsters, including the hit on New York Mafia figure Crazy Joe Gallo.

Sheerhan was the "Luca Brazzi" to Buffalino's "Don Corleone." When Buffalino told Sheerhan to report to work for Jimmy Hoffa, Sheerhan says he started doing hits on behalf of the Teamsters. In thanks, Jimmy Hoffa created a Teamsters local in Delaware and put Sheerhan in charge. Sheerhan and Hoffa became very close.

Charles Brandt continued, "He became Hoffa's trusted East Coast guy. He traveled with Hoffa. They did an awful lot together and when Hoffa was attempting to get back the Teamsters after he'd gone to jail, Sheerhan used to visit him regularly in jail. Sheerhan loved Hoffa. Sheerhan said to me that when it's time for you to go, they'll send your best friend. You'll be talking about a football bet, and the next thing you know, you'll be dead. And they selected Sheerhan to kill Hoffa because at the time Hoffa was very leery. He knew he had enemies that wanted him dead."

Hoffa was sent to prison for jury tampering and planned a return to power upon his release. According to Brandt, Hoffa arranged a $500,000 bribe to the Nixon administration, money that was skimmed from Las Vegas casinos and delivered to Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell by none other than Frank Sheerhan. Nixon then pardoned Hoffa, but rival Frank Fitzsimmons had become Teamster president and wouldn't step aside for Hoffa.

The mobsters who had once supported Hoffa liked Fitzsimmons better. Hoffa had helped the mob with the pension fund loans, but always insisted the loans be paid back. Fitzsimmons wasn't so demanding. When Hoffa publicly stated that he might spill the beans about dirty loans, the die was cast. He had to go. And Sheerhan was given the job of triggerman.

At the end of Sheerhan's life, as he was dying of cancer, he made a confession to Brandt on tape. "There is no question Frank Sheerhan was telling me the truth," Brandt said.

Tuesday night at 11, you will hear Frank Sheerhan, in his own words; describe what happened on the last day of Jimmy Hoffa's life. How he was murdered and where it occurred. Then on Wednesday night at 11, the I-Team will tell you what happened to his body. Hint: It isn't under Giants Stadium.

Charles Brandt, the author of I Heard You Paint Houses, will be in Las Vegas this week for a book-signing event at the Reading Room at Mandalay Bay. It's slated for Wednesday, Nov. 15th at 7 p.m.

What does the government think of Sheerhan's confession? Does the FBI believe him?

There are a handful of competing theories about exactly how Hoffa died, but documents the I-Team has obtained show that Sheerhan was a prime suspect right form the beginning. Those lawmen the I-Team talked to, including Stan Hunterton, say that Sheerhan's story rings true to them.

Post your comments on The Hoffa Files blog, or email your comments to Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp at

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