The exact years are not important here. I was not aware as these events unfolded that they would someday be the subject of interest to others. They were, and remain, just events in my life.
To give you a bit of perspective I got my law license in 1974, Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975. This story begins for me in about 1977.
Country Wide Labor Industries, Inc (Also known as Countrywide Personnel) was formed on 1976. It was a Missouri Corporation. I served as its registered agent and my office was the registered address for the corporation.
Its purpose was to provide workers to various industries by contract. This enterprise was known as labor leasing. Labor leasing is a situation where a company (Country Wide) provides employees to another company (XYZ Manufacturing) for a fee. Country Wide is the actual employer. If the employees want to organize a labor union, they organize Country Wide employees, not XYZ manufacturing. If there are labor problems such as a strike, the employees only strike against Country Wide, not XYZ Manufacturing. The same goes for any type of employee problems like discrimination, etc. It insulates the end user, XYZ Manufacturing, from labor problems.
It eventually became one of my duties as the attorney for Country Wide was to go to various locations around the country and negotiate labor contracts with the employee bargaining units. These were truck drivers and they were Teamster members. These drivers would then in turn be assigned to work at the direction of Country Wide for the customer.
The owner of Countrywide, Roland, would stay at his office and as the negotiations progressed, I would keep him informed by telephone. He would give me a top dollar figure he was willing to pay for hourly wages and give me a range of parameters for benefits. My job was to bring in a labor contract with that Teamster business agent that was as beneficial as possible for my client, Country Wide.
The negotiations soon fit a pattern. I could get the union representative to accept an hourly rate well below what I was authorized by Roland to offer so long as I agreed to make Central States Pension Fund the benefits provider for the drivers. I will admit to being a little naïve about that the first and maybe even the second time it occurred. I was beginning to think I was a darned good labor negotiator.
The third time it happened I had been in negotiations with the union rep for three days when he finally said, “Hey, I don’t give a f$#k what you are paying the guys, if you don’t use Central States, we ain’t got no deal.” I got it!
That sentiment was made even more concrete when Roland told me that Roy Williams (Teamster President from 1981-1983) personally signed off on every contract I negotiated. When I challenged Roland on that ridiculous assertion, he assured me that Gene Boffa told him that. I could not then understand why Roy Williams or anybody at that level in the Teamsters would care about a bargaining unit that consisted of only 15 drivers. It would later become very clear.
Early on in my representation of Country Wide Roland mentioned a man in New Jersey by the name of Eugene Boffa Sr. As Roland told it Gene was sort of a mentor to Roland. In fact, it was Gene Boffa who had guided Roland into the labor leasing business. It seems Gene had a number of labor leasing businesses set up around the country that he owned. As far as we were concerned there was no connection between the businesses other than Gene being a consultant to Roland. More about that later.
Aside from the occasional travel to negotiate labor contracts my representation of Country Wide was pretty mundane. I would write a letter here, maybe make some phone calls to straighten out some small mess there. But things ran pretty smoothly.
One day Roland was sitting in my office on a routine matter and he asked me a question about a corporate resolution. I told him he should bring his corporate minute books in and I would straighten it all out. That is when he dropped the first bombshell.
He didn’t have the Corporate books at his office. You see, the Organized Crime Strike Force from Philadelphia had come to his office about two weeks earlier and asked him if they could take his books back to Philadelphia for an investigation they were working on. What?
Of course, Roland being the type of guy he was, handed them right over. When I asked him what he was thinking, he replied by telling me he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t have any reason not to give up the books.
Then he added that he had mentioned the incident to Gene in one of their regular phone calls and Gene promised to provide a lawyer for him if he needed one. Another “What?”
After a lengthy discussion Roland agreed that it would probably have been best to call me first but did give me the go ahead to find out what was going on.
I contacted the Strike Force investigator who had left his card with Roland. He told me that they were investigating Eugene Boffa Sr., Frank Sheeran, Robert Rispo, Louis Kalmar Sr., Chandler Lemon and Roland for RICO violations in connection with labor racketeering, bribery, mail fraud, conspiracy and a few other things. The nice investigator even shared with me that they believed that Eugene Boffa Sr. owned the car that Jimmy Hoffa was last seen getting into.
Let me digress here and tell you that the story the investigator told me does not match the account that was shown in the movie “The Irishman,” which is what got you to this page in the first place. I will also add that I have no credible information about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa other than what I learned in the course of events you are reading here.
Not long after I told the investigator that I, and not some east coast lawyer provided by Gene Boffa, was now representing Roland, Roland got a phone call from Gene. He wanted to see Roland in New Jersey and he wanted to see him at once. That was bad enough. Roland agreed to go but said he was bringing me with him.
I tried to convince Roland that going to New Jersey was not a requirement. He said that he had a special relationship with Gene and that Gene always told him he was like … wait for it …” Family.”
No! I thought. Please don’t say you are part of Gene’s family. I had a lot of work to do with Roland.
Things were happening fast. We booked a flight to Newark and Gene picked us up at the airport in a beautiful, chauffer-driven Cadillac limousine. It was one of many cars he owned and kept in the basement garage of his condo.
He took us to a nearby motel where Roland and I were to spend the night and then be picked up in the morning. Before retiring to our separate rooms Roland and I agreed to meet at 6:00 a.m for breakfast in the hotel restaurant.
When I showed up about 5 minutes early I was surprised to find Roland already in place, He looked rough.
He explained that he hardly slept all night because he heard people walking up and down the hallways and was concerned that Gene had sent someone to deal with me. He was genuinely happy to see that I had survived the night. “A little too much imagination,” I thought.
Roland’s concern stuck in the back of my mind, though when Gene and one of his associates came to pick us up in the morning. No more limousine. Just a regular old car. Gene would drive and the associate and Roland would sit in the back. I was invited, if that is the right word, to sit in the front passenger seat. I must admit that I was a bit uncomfortable during the ride.
When we arrived at Gene’s condo we were greeted by another associate with what I call the “mafia” handshake. It consists of a big hug and then running of the hands up and down the back as if to check for recording devices or weapons. But, then again, it could just be me being paranoid.
Gene was a great host. The first thing he did was dismiss the other people leaving only Gene, me and Roland in the condo. He showed us around. There were photographs on all the table. There was Gene on the dais for some event, there was Gene with an unrecognized businessman, there was Gene with Tony “Pro” Provenzano, there was Gene with a politician, there was Gene with Carlo Gambino, there was Gene with Joe Bonanno, in fact it was like an all-star museum. The guy seemed to have a lot of connections.
We spent most of the meeting talking about the fact that Gene was not guilty of anything. This was all made up. That he had done nothing wrong. The Feds misunderstood. This was just the way they did business here in Jersey.
You see one of the things that was alleged was that Gene owned a car leasing business, too. And it was further alleged that many of these cars were being driven by Teamster bosses around the country who were not paying for them. And the Feds, being the suspicious types they are, suspected that this in some way influenced the various union reps to enter into unholy alliances with Gene’s companies.
We listened. I nodded appropriately and kept mental notes. Gene then took us to the airport and dropped us off. No fanfare. No threats. Just an admonition to keep in touch.
When we got back to St. Louis I brought Roland in to my office. There he explained to me that he paid Gene a consulting fee each year to help him out with any labor problems he might have. I asked to see a copy of the agreement. He said there was nothing in writing. I told him that he had to stop making any payments to Gene unless there was a written agreement that specifically spelled out what the consulting fees were for and what exactly Gene was doing to earn them.
He said he understood and would quit immediately. I asked how much he was paying Gene.
Roughly one million dollars a year.
You can imagine, or maybe you can’t, the phone call I got from Gene when Roland announced that I would not let him pay the money anymore. Gene was a bit upset. I explained as calmly as I could that I would be glad to write up an agreement that set out the rights and responsibilities of each party and we could resume making the payments. He would have no part of it.
As the investigation dragged on a number of things happened. Gene sent people to visit Roland and me on a few occasions. One of those resulted in Gene accusing Roland of cheating him because Roland lived in a house that would have cost a million dollars in New Jersey. In O’Fallon, Missouri at that time the house and its 1/3 acre lot was valued at about $125,000.00. I managed to smooth that over.
There was another time that my law partners and I were having lunch at a restaurant near but not in direct proximity to our office and three of Gene’s associates showed up unannounced and wanted to speak to me. How they found me at that restaurant still remains a mystery to me. It turned out to be a friendly conversation about the progress of the investigation. I suspect they were there to try and find out if Roland was cooperating.
One day the Feds were sitting in my office for an interview and Gene called. I put him on the speaker phone. He was kind enough in that conversation to suggest to me that it was not in my best interest to continue to keep Roland from paying him his consulting fee. Did he come right out and say he was going to kill me? No. Could it be inferred from the conversation? I guess that depends on your interpretation. I am still here.
He was now claiming that Country Wide of Missouri, the very company for which I was the registered agent, was really his company.
About a month later Roland said he was once again summoned to New Jersey. He insisted I go with him. We did not tell Gene I was coming.
Gene picked us up at the airport ion an old Buick sedan. It struck me as odd. He was alone. When he saw me he started o fume. As we drove to his condo I remember him repeatedly slamming his fist on the steering wheel cussing at Roland about bringing his “goddamned attorney” with him and reminding him over and over again that they were family and this is not the way family behaves.
I noticed we were going through an unfamiliar part of town. It was a light industrial area. Suddenly Gene turned down an narrow alleyway between to rows of warehouses. There was not even enough room to open a car door. I thought, “Oh this is great! All he has to do is stop the car, a man can open the door to the warehouse, pump a few shots in the car and Gene can drive off with either one or two corpses in the car.”
Okay, I know it sounds dramatic. But it would make a great scene in a gangster movie. Instead Gene starts cussing at Roland again because Gene was so angry that he has missed his turn and needs to double back.
In spite of all that anger and drama, the meeting went pretty smoothly. We did, of course, get the mafia handshake when we got to the condo. I would not budge on the consulting agreement or ownership of the company and there wasn’t much more to discuss.
Gene took us back to the airport later and that was the last I saw of him. I always felt that the purpose of that meeting was to finally determine if Roland was cooperating with the Feds.
Did Roland cooperate? No. I told the Feds when they started that Roland was not involved in labor racketeering or anything else. They started out not believing me. After thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, investigating Roland and the others, he was not indicted. Many of the others, including Gene and Frank, were. One of the investigators from the task force came to my office and told me that they did not believe me in the beginning but eventually came to the conclusion that Roland really was so naïve that he had no idea what was going on.
I liked Gene and the others. I had no idea that Frank Sheeran, who I met throughout the course of this, was a hit man. He was always nice to me. Some of the people I met did not give their names. Some seemed to be more important than others. Some seemed like just good old-fashioned working men.
Sure there were some tense moments but I have been threatened more than once in my life and I seem to still be here. Aside from the shouting and occasional loss of temper, none of the people I was doing business with or sometimes against, ever shook a fist at me, pushed me, shoved me or physically intimidated me.
In the big picture I believe they just didn’t think I was a big enough threat that they had to kill me.
I sure like the movie, though.