FBI pressing Hoffa associate to take lie-detector test

Agent's letter suggests aide could clear name

September 11, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DETROIT - The FBI tried during the weekend to persuade Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien to take a lie-detector test regarding the disappearance of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, according to a letter that O'Brien's lawyer said came from an agent.

William Bufalino II said O'Brien received the letter Sunday from agent Andrew Sluss, who also wrote to O'Brien five years ago and said he didn't consider him a suspect in the case.

The new letter suggests O'Brien could clear his name if he can pass an FBI polygraph test.

"Passing the FBI test will allow me to focus the investigation in the proper direction," the new letter stated.

Federal officials said Friday that DNA tests confirm one of Hoffa's hairs was found in a car that O'Brien was driving shortly before Hoffa vanished July 30, 1975. O'Brien, a Hoffa associate, has denied involvement in the case and has said Hoffa was not in the car that day. O'Brien was unavailable for comment.

When asked about the most recent letter, a copy of which was provided to the Detroit Free Press, Sluss declined to comment. An FBI spokeswoman, Dawn Clenney, said in Detroit that she was unaware of the letter and that it was inappropriate to discuss an open investigation.

In any event, Bufalino said his client would not submit to the polygraph.

It is the second time in a month O'Brien declined an FBI request for a polygraph, Bufalino said. O'Brien was asked to submit to one when two agents visited him at his home in Florida three weeks ago.

At the time, Bufalino said, Sluss and the other agent wouldn't tell O'Brien why they were in Florida and why they wanted a polygraph test. But in the recent letter, O'Brien was told the visit was because of the death of Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone.

The Detroit mob leader, who was supposed to meet with Hoffa at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township the day he vanished, died in February. The letter to O'Brien explained that the trip to Florida was delayed because of budget considerations.

"The DNA test results were not what sent Steve and I down to see you last month," the letter stated. "I have known the results of the DNA test for over a year and a half."

That time frame does not match the rough timeline for the DNA test set out Friday by John Bell, special agent in charge of the Detroit office. Bell said the results came back before a November meeting in which the case was discussed among investigators.

Bufalino said he had no idea why the FBI asked for a polygraph test in the handwritten letter, which was dated Friday.

"I can't answer that," he said. "What I'm upset about is that this" DNA test "is not a new revelation. The reason for the visit was Giacalone."

Bufalino said he was frustrated with reports of the DNA tests initially printed in The Detroit News. He considered those reports old news.

He said the story "stigmatizes my client and his family."

But, he added, "I compliment the FBI for their honesty."

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