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FBI searches for Hoffa remains

FBI agents have been searching a suburban field for the remains of former US labour union chief Jimmy Hoffa, who went missing in 1975.

Federal agents are digging in a field in the Detroit area where reputed Mafia captain Tony Zerilli says Hoffa's remains are buried.

Zerilli told Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. The search site is in Oakland Township, about 25 miles north of Detroit.

Hoffa was president of the once notorious Teamsters organisation from 1957 to 1971. He was reputed to be heavily involved with organised crime from his early years with the Teamsters. He was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud in 1964, and was imprisoned in 1967 and sentenced to 13 years after exhausting the appeal process.

President Richard Nixon agreed his release in 1971, but barred him from union activities until 1980, which would have been the end of his prison term. He disappeared in 1975 after going to a Detroit-area restaurant for what was supposed to be a meeting with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain.

Robert Foley, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit division, made a few brief comments during a news conference about the latest search for Hoffa. He said the warrant to search the property was sealed, and that authorities would not be disclosing the details of what they were seeking.

Zerilli, who was promoting a book, Hoffa Found, said the FBI had enough information for a search warrant to dig at the site, and that he had answered every question from agents and prosecutors. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who joined Mr Foley at a news conference, said it was his "fondest hope" to bring closure for Hoffa's family and the community.

In September, police took soil from a suburban back yard after a tip that Hoffa was buried there. It was just one of many fruitless searches. Previous tips led police to a horse farm north west of Detroit in 2006, a Detroit home in 2004 and a back yard pool two hours north of the city in 2003.

Zerilli's lawyer David Chasnick said his client was "thrilled" that investigators were acting on the information. "Hoffa's body is somewhere in that field, no doubt about it," Mr Chasnick said. He added that Zerilli told him there used to be a barn in the field, and that Hoffa's body was buried beneath a concrete slab inside the barn. Zerilli was convicted of organised crime and was in prison when Hoffa disappeared, but he told New York TV station WNBC in January that he was informed about Hoffa's whereabouts after his release.

Andrew Arena, who was head of the FBI in Detroit until he retired in 2012, said Zerilli "would have been in a position to have been told" where Hoffa was buried. "I still don't know if this was a guess on his part. I don't know if he was actually brought here by the Detroit (mob) family," Mr Arena said. "It's his position as the reputed underboss. That's the significance."

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