Anthony Provenzano, nicknamed “Tony Pro,” was an east coast Mafioso and New Jersey union leader who was tied to the Genovese Crime Family and has long been accused of playing a key role in the disappearance of Labor boss Jimmy Hoffa. Provenzano is played in the Netflix mob film The Irishman by Stephen Graham. (Be forewarned that there will be some spoilers for the movie in this article because it’s based on real life.)
The Irishman has some people wondering about the real Anthony Provenzano. Hoffa vanished in 1975 in Detroit, where he was supposed to meet Provenzano and another mobster. His body has never been found, although he was declared dead. It’s widely accepted that Hoffa was supposed to meet Tony Pro and the other mobster, Tony Giacalone, at a Detroit restaurant that day – or at least that he thought he was. Those who think Tony Pro was behind Hoffa’s mysterious disappearance argue that Provenzano was behind the hit (perhaps at the behest of an even more powerful mob figure, Russell Bufalino). But they don’t argue that Tony Pro pulled the trigger himself. In fact, he claimed he had an alibi: He was playing cards in another state.
An Associated Press story in the Idaho State Journal from December 15, 1975 reported that Stephen Andretta, described as a New Jersey Teamster, was being held in solitary confinement because he refused to cooperate in the investigation into Hoffa’s disappearance. The government wanted Andretta to testify against his brother Thomas and Salvatore Briguglio and his brother Gabriel Briguglio because a government informant named them as Hoffa’s killers.
All of these characters made the list of Hoffa suspects in the famous “Hoffex memo” authored in 1976 by the lead FBI case agent into Hoffa’s disappearance. In addition, Tony Pro and Frank Sheeran are on the suspect list; Sheeran’s the titular “Irishman” who was affiliated with all of the above mob characters and was a long-time Hoffa associate. In real life and the movie, it’s Sheeran who claims he’s the triggerman, a story that some believe but others question. Other experts point to Sal Briguglio as the likely gunman (he later died in a gang hit in Little Italy.) No one knows for sure. There are just theories.
However, most of the theories have Tony Pro as the man orchestrating it all at the direction of Bufalino, a powerful crime boss who controlled Pennsylvania’s rackets.
Tony Pro’s possible involvement in the Hoffa disappearance is no big revelation, though. The same year Hoffa vanished, the 1975 AP article described Tony Pro as another key figure in the Hoffa case. He told investigators “he was playing cards with Stephen Andretta in Union City, New Jersey the day Hoffa disappeared,” the AP article stated. It described how reports indicated that Provenzano, a “Teamster boss in New Jersey” was supposed to be meeting Hoffa at a Detroit restaurant. Instead, Hoffa disappeared.
Here’s what you need to know:
Authorities Believe That Hoffa Thought He Was Meeting Tony Pro, With Whom He Had Bad Blood Dating to Their Prison Years Together
According to an FBI report, Provenzano was a “soldier in the Genovese crime family who was a close associate of Hoffa in the early 1960s” and was deemed a primary suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance. Provenzano was also a shop steward in a trucking company and he was the person in charge of “bookmaking, numbers and loan sharking,” AP reported.
Even back in 1988 a Mafia Encyclopedia reported that Tony Pro was behind Hoffa’s disappearance.
His New York Times obituary described him as “a short, stocky and ham-fisted man who bore the scars of his young years as an amateur boxer” and who “joined the teamsters as a Depression-era truck driver.”
The Charles Brandt book in which Sheeran confesses to murdering Hoffa explains the bad blood between Tony Pro and Hoffa, saying that Jimmy “wanted the little guy dead,” and he in turn, describing Tony Pro as a “made man and a captain in the Genovese family in Brooklyn” who used to be a “Hoffa man” but was now against Hoffa taking back control of the union.
In prison, Hoffa and Tony Pro had almost come to blows in a dining hall. In the book, Sheeran described Pro as someone who would “kill you for nothing” and ran a Teamsters Local in the area now featured on the Sopranos.
The Times reported that he was the son of Rosario and Josephine Dispensa Provenzano. They were Sicilian immigrants who had six sons. Tony was born in Manhattan and, by the time he was 17, was driving truck in New Jersey, according to The Times. The obit says he had a wife Marie-Paule Migneron Provenzano and four daughters, Josephine, Marie Maita, Doreen Rucinski and Charlotte Polile.
The other Mafioso who was supposed to meet Hoffa at the restaurant, Anthony Giacalone – described by UPI in a 1975 article as a “reputed mob enforcer in Detroit” – served warning that he wouldn’t answer questions before a grand jury looking into Hoffa’s death way back in 1975.
Hoffa had told his family he was meeting with Giacalone for lunch the day he disappeared, but Giacalone denied that. The UPI article called him the “most feared man in the Detroit mob.”
UPI reported that “Tony Pro” was a “former Hoffa cellmate in federal prison.” In August 1975, the Associated Press reported that Tony Pro “bore a grudge against Hoffa from old prison days.”
The AP reported that Giacolone was a “longtime Hoffa friend” whose criminal record dated to 1937. He arranged the supposed meeting with Hoffa to “mediate” a “long-simmering dispute” between Provenzano and Hoffa, AP reported.
AP said the grudge dated back to the pair being in prison together in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Provenzano was “forced to step down as head of Teamsters local 560 in Union City, N.J.” and wanted Hoffa “to amend the union’s pension plan so he would quality,” AP reported, adding that Hoffa refused.
By 1978, the Courier-Post in Camden, New Jersey was reporting that Tony Pro was in the sights of a federal probe looking into “organized crime’s control of the state’s trucking and shipping industries.”
Provenzano’s troubles with the law dated pretty far back, though. An AP story in 1967 described how he was an “imprisoned New Jersey Teamsters union leader.” He received a seven year prison term for extortion, landing him in prison alongside Hoffa.
The Herald-News reported that Provenzano was accused of extorting money from Dorn Transportation Co. by “threatening to cause labor trouble.” In 1964, he was already 47 years old. He was described as president of the Joint Teamsters Council 73, which represented North Jersey Teamsters.
An August 1975 Associated Press story reported that authorities were planning to question a former Philadelphia union official named Daniel Sullivan who claimed that Hoffa told him a year before his disappearance that Provenzano was threatening him.
He alleged that Hoffa told him, “Tony Pro threatened to pull my guts out or kidnap my grandchildren if I continued to attempt to return to the presidency of the Teamsters.” In response, Provenzano claimed he hadn’t seen Hoffa for more than four years.
Sullivan claimed to AP that Provenzano was also upset that his association with Hoffa caused him troubles with law enforcement.
The Hoffex memo written by the FBI case agent in the Hoffa investigation in 1976 says this about Provenzano and a couple of the other suspects:
Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, then age 58, “known New Jersey La Cosa Nostra member and Teamster Local 560 Officer. Served time in Lewisburg Penitentiary with JRH and reportedly had a ‘falling out’ with him while there.”
Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone, described as age 57, Detroit La Cosa Nostra lieutenant and street boss “who was reported to have set up meeting with JRH, July 30, 1975, and never showed. Has alibi being at Southfield Athletic Club, July 30, 1975. Married to a Provenzano, who may be a relative of Anthony Provenzano.”
Salvatore “Sal” Briguglio, age 45, “trusted associated of ‘Tony Pro,’ reported by Newark source to be involved in actual disappearance of JRH.”
Vince Wade, the reporter who broke the story of Hoffa’s disappearance, wrote in a 2019 article in the Daily Beast that he doesn’t believe the Sheeran story about killing Hoffa is true.
According to Wade, Hoffa was urged by mob figures to “attend a peace meeting with Provenzano to clear the air” and told his wife that’s who he was meeting the afternoon he vanished. The “broker” of that meeting, according to Wade, was Giacalone, a mob enforcer from Detroit. Both men had alibis. It was documented that Hoffa’s foster son Chuckie O’Brien was driving his car.
Wade reported that police think Hoffa was driven by O’Brien to the murder site but didn’t kill him. Hoffa’s hair and scent were found in the car.
In 1975, mob informant Ralph Picardo said that “trusted associates of Provenzano” killed Hoffa. According to Wade, Bufalino was the most likely high-level mobster to have ordered the hit. He reports that Salvatore Briguglio, a trusted Provenzano man, was believed to be the Hoffa killer. Garrity, the Hoffa case agent for the FBI, told Wade that Sheeran was interviewed, and Hoffa had called him the day before he disappeared, but that Garrity has “no indication he (Sheeran) was there.” Others disagree. They say that Sheeran’s story was plausible, and he was in Detroit that day.
Provenzano Was a Known Mobster & Genovese Crime Family Member Who Was a Target of Bobby Kennedy
The Asbury Park Press reported in April 1984 that Robert F. Kennedy, as counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee “investigating organized labor in the late 1950s” was “out to get Tony Pro,” according to a relative. Anthony Provenzano eventually became International Teamsters vice president in 1961.
Provenzano was accused of ordering a hit on Anthony Castellitto in 1961, whose body was never found.
Gannett News Service reported in May 1978 that “Tony Pro was no longer smiling.” He was upset, the article said, because he was on trial for “federal kickback charges” and because Salvatore Briguglio had been shot “five times in the head outside a Little Italy restaurant.”
The article stated that the Local 560 Teamster branch in Union City was dominated by Provenzano and his brother, Salvatore Provenzano. At that time, Anthony Provenzano was on trial on accusations he conspired to arrange a kickback in return for a Woodstock Hotel mortgage loan in New York.
Salvatore Briguglio was described by the AP in 1978 as the victim of an “underworld-style slaying” that ended the chances he could provide the “break” authorities needed in the Hoffa case. He was 48 when he was gunned down and a “$31,000 a-year business agent for Teamsters Local 560 in Union City.”
He was one of three men brought before a police lineup in 1976 for witnesses who saw Hoffa with several men before he disappeared. One witness “tentatively identified Briguglio” as being with Hoffa that day, the AP reported.
That article states that authorities believed Hoffa was killed by Mafia figures who didn’t want him to expose the crime organizations’ “ties to the nation’s largest labor union.”
Briguglio was murdered as he walked out of Benito’s II restaurant. He was shot five times in the head and once in the chest, “falling in a gutter,” according to AP. Authorities were investigating whether it was a “planned hit.” That May both Provenzano and Briguglio were to stand trial in the old Castellito murder.
The Government Eventually Sought to Seize the Union Branch Controlled by the Provenzano Family
According to a 1988 article in The Record, a Hackensack, New Jersey newspaper, Provenzano was convicted of four felonies, including a murder of a rival, Castellito, who was garroted with piano wire.
The News, a Paterson, New Jersey newspaper, reported in 1982 that the United States attorney for New Jersey had asked a judge to seize control of the Teamsters Local 560, citing a “20-year pattern of murder, extortion and embezzlement of union funds that allowed the Provenzano family to control the union, even from prison.”
There was a third brother named Nunzio. At that time, in 1982, Anthony was serving a 20 year prison sentence for “labor racketeering.”
The Record reported that, in 1987, Tony Pro was then 70 and the “fiery former head of Local 560,” then spending his days “in a wheelchair” in a California prison. He was described as being “known for his icy stare and booming voice” and was now disabled.
He was also described as a “ranking figure in the Genovese crime family.”
A 1975 story in the Dayton Daily News described Salvatore Briguglio as Tony Pro’s “right hand man” and his contact person with Joseph Zicarelli, a mob boss in New Jersey. Gabriel Briguglio was described as a “strong man” for the union.
What was Tony Pro’s cause of death? He died in December 1988 at the age of 71 of a heart attack. At the time he was imprisoned in California. He was at a hospital at the time for treatment of congestive heart failure, a 1988 Associated Press article in the Hartford Courant explained.
A man who knew him in his final years wrote on Facebook, “In the environment in which we were friends… ‘straight up’ means… honest, tells the truth, acts honorably, doesn’t rat and won’t tolerate people that do… he may have killed Jimmy, I don’t know, but he was always straight with me which is an honorable thing… the environment is a strange one that many people cannot survive… I survived…”
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