When I was a student at Novi High School, our school’s biggest in-conference rival was Milford. My emotions toward the 7,000-person village bordered on disdain, to say the least (apologies to any Mavericks-turned-Wolverines).

Angela Cesere

Since May 17, the nation has had a much different view of the tiny cow town. For 13 magical days, the town I loved to hate in high school was the possible final resting place of Michigan’s most legendary mob victim, former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. During that time, a spectrum of specialists razed a barn, dug a 50-by-40-by-four-foot hole and spent $250,000 searching for his remains after an aging convict told the FBI he’d seen Hoffa’s body lowered into a hole near that horse farm three decades ago.

That all ended last Tuesday when Judy Chilen, the supervisor of the FBI’s Detroit office, announced the assemblage of forensic scientists had found nothing more than a beer can and water pipes. No different-colored dirt, no body, no Hoffa.

Surely, this is an embarrassment for the domestic intelligence agency. All week long, CNN displayed chopper shots of giant cranes ripping into Hidden Dreams Farm’s red barn only to report later the rather expensive disappointment.

Many ordinary folks I’ve talked to say the FBI should take this failure as a hint and give up the search. It’s been 30 years; investigators aren’t going to find him now. They say it’s a waste of money – the $4,000 the agency paid to purchase and then splinter the barn certainly could have been put to better use, especially in a time of war and hurting economy. Besides, he’s probably not buried on a farm. It would take a pretty dumb mobster to kill a famous enemy, wrap him in a carpet and bury him in a four-foot-deep hole on property with known gangster connections. (Anybody else find it weird that investigators only dug four feet deep instead of the six of normal graves?)

The agency, obviously, sees it differently, and it has used the most recent search as a platform to issue thinly veiled threats to any potential mob members: We won’t give up the fight against organized crime, not matter how much time passes, it seems to say.

In an ideal world, such commitment to justice would be admirable, desirable even. But we live in a reality of tight budgets and various necessary expenses. Money spent following the numerous Hoffa leads over the years is money that could have (and maybe should have) been spent elsewhere, like, say, on streamlining counter-terrorism intelligence efforts, or keeping the government’s intelligence technology adequately updated.

Some commentators have pointed out that the agency was backed into a corner, forced to start the dig because of lawsuit threats from a former lawyer of Donovan Wells, the elderly tipster who told his story to try and get out of jail before his life expires. They say the FBI would love to drop the Hoffa case, but it has been forced into action by the fear that some tabloid will pick up the ignored tip, send out a couple guys with shovels and make the backyard find of the century. Hence the 13-day digging frenzy.

If this truly is the case, then the FBI needs to grow a backbone. This is hardly even a plausible fear. On the incredibly off chance that a tabloid or a credible news source does come up with something tangible that seems to be Hoffa-related, the agency could do what bureaucracies do best – shoe out the normal government poppycock about how it didn’t initially think the tip was credible and, after careful consideration, decided not to follow the tip.

Speaking of tip credibility, it seems as though Wells’s information was not scrutinized closely enough. Though repeatedly called “credible” by FBI spokespeople, his story should have been treated with extreme skepticism from the beginning. Unlike some previous Hoffa “tipsters,” Wells was not trying to assuage a long-developed guilty conscience – he was trying to maneuver his way out of jail. And according to The Detroit News, he might have succeeded. An article published Thursday said authorities may reduce his sentence even though his lead didn’t pan out. So, in other words, he could have made up a grandiose lie and successfully outwitted the justice system. Looks like his ex-lawyer deserves a bonus.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the agency will still pursue all leads in the Hoffa case. I applaud its commitment to justice, but hope it will keep reality in perspective. I just hope no more barns get unnecessarily razed.

Hildreth can be reached at childret@umich.edu.

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