1/15/08

Teamster boss mum on suspect's kin-claim

A man who claims to be related to missing Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa was ordered jailed pending a federal indictment on charges he robbed one western Pennsylvania bank and planned to rob another.

William James Hoffa Jr., 47, is accused of robbing a Parkvale Savings Bank branch in Uniontown on Christmas Eve and with planning to rob another Parkvale branch in Chalk Hill last Thursday.

Authorities stopped the second robbery because the FBI said Hoffa was accompanied by an informant wearing a hidden microphone, whom Hoffa enlisted as a getaway driver after Hoffa allegedly bragged about robbing the first bank.

Federal public defender Marketa Sims did not comment on the charges after a preliminary hearing Monday, but she did confirm that Hoffa claims to be the grandson of the famous labor leader's brother.

FBI Special Agent Patrick McGlennon explained the tangled investigation when he was the only witness at Hoffa's one-hour preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court.

Shortly after Hoffa was arrested outside the Fayette County bank last week, he also confessed to robbing another Parkvale branch in nearby Uniontown on Christmas Eve, McGlennon said.

"That was me that robbed that (other) bank," McGlennon said Hoffa told him.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell ordered Hoffa jailed as a flight risk and danger to the community until a federal grand jury hears evidence in the Christmas Eve robbery and last week's aborted heist. Because Mitchell found probable cause Hoffa committed the crimes, a grand jury now has 30 days to indict him.

The FBI and state police had refused to say how they anticipated the robbery attempt at a news conference announcing Hoffa's arrest last week.

The informant told police on New Year's Day that Hoffa, 47, bragged about the Christmas Eve robbery. In that heist, a bearded man acted as though he had a gun and told a teller, "If I have to pull it out, I'll use it" and got away with $1,490, McGlennon said.

Though none of those details — save the facial hair — was publicized by police, the informant explained how Hoffa put his pointed finger in his pocket and pretended to have a gun, and knew what Hoffa told the teller. The informant said Hoffa had said he shaved shortly after the heist, McGlennon said.

Sims said after the hearing that she and the FBI have yet to confirm Hoffa's family ties. Hoffa does resemble the famous labor leader who disappeared in July 1975 outside a restaurant in suburban Detroit.

But Sims suggested while cross-examining McGlennon that the informant took an active role in the plot.

Sims noted that Hoffa didn't have a toy gun, getaway car, mask or accomplice during the first robbery. In Thursday's attempt, the FBI alleges Hoffa instructed the informant to buy a realistic looking toy gun, two ski masks, and stole a license plate that he put on a rental car the informant was driving.

When Sims asked how the agent knew those extra details were Hoffa's idea, McGlennon said he heard them on the hidden microphone the informant was wearing that day.

"I distinctly heard Mr. Hoffa say to the source, obtain a gun and two ski masks," McGlennon said. The agents had also put a tracking device on the rental car, so they were ready when Hoffa and the informant arrived.

Sims argued for Hoffa's release, saying he has end-stage cirrhosis of the liver and takes medication to control psychotic episodes.

"This is somebody who's very ill mentally and physically, and I'm very concerned about his well being" in jail, Sims told the judge.

The judge ordered Hoffa held without bond ordered Allegheny County Jail be advised of Hoffa's condition.

(mlive.com)

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