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A Scary Hoffaween!

Written by Wanda Pasz Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Is former Teamsters' president Jimmy Hoffa entombed in a west-end Toronto parking garage? Dr. Elvistein, a Toronto-based organized crime sleuth has developed a theory that the mobbed-up former union boss is haunting the dilapidated parkade of a building where many sinister characters have lurked for over three decades.

Hoffa's whereabouts have been the source of much speculation since he disappeared after a meeting with mob associates at a Detroit restaurant in the summer of 1975.

Earlier this year, US law enforcement officials dug up a farmer's field outside Detroit on a tip from an ailing prison snitch who claimed to have the goods on Jimmy's demise. The dig was unsuccessful but drew intense media attention. Talk show host Conan O'Brien reportedly quipped that, "Officials say it's the first time they've ever been to Detroit and not found a body."

Considering the ongoing interest in finding Jimmy and the innovative theories that have made the rounds as to his probable final resting place, Dr. E's hypothesis warrants consideration - especially on a day like today.

The building Dr. E believes may be Jimmy's crypt is a former hotel that was featured on the Members for Democracy web site give years ago in a story called the Haunted Houses of Labour.

The hotel, originally called The Triumph, was built in the mid-1970's by the Del Zotto family - major players in Toronto's construction industry. According to a media report from 1971, the original plan was to build an innovative drive-in hotel where guests could check in without leaving their cars and get to their rooms via an elevator from an underground garage. The drive-in concept was abandoned as was the underground garage. Instead, a humungous 5-story, above-ground parkade was erected behind the hotel. Guests could get to the hotel from their cars by walking a few hundred feet outside or through an underground tunnel that connected the garage to the basement level of the hotel.

From the beginning the concrete monolith raised eyebrows. It was a dreadful waste use of valuable land, a hassle for hotel guests and it was butt ugly (one local city councilor described it as the city's ugliest freestanding structure).

The Triumph opened for business in the late summer of 1975, just a few weeks after Jimmy ate his last meal in Detroit. Around this time, links between the Del Zotto construction empire and organized crime were revealed in a report by Judge Harry Waisberg. The Waisberg Commission was established in 1973 after a wave of bombings and shootings at construction sites and construction company offices.

The Waisberg report hit southern Ontario like a bombshell when it was tabled at Queen's Park on December 19, 1974, and it made people dramatically aware of corruption and the role of the mob in the construction industry. The Globe and Mail gave the report full front-page coverage, excerpting important sections inside the paper. Many of the mobsters involved, including Paul Volpe, Natale Luppino, and Chuck Yanover, had been star witnesses before the commission, along with prominent figures in the construction industry in Ontario, such as Angelo and Elvio Del Zotto and Marco Muzzo. Union officials, such as Gus Simone of the Lather' Union, Local 562, were also called to testify in the year and a half of Judge Waisberg's extensive inquiries.

Judge Waisberg began one of his most important chapters by describing the events at a 1971 meeting in the Mona Lisa Restaurant at 2954 Dufferin Street, Toronto, the mob gathering place of its day. (It was here that Paul Volpe, Jimmy Luppino, Charles Yanover, Remo Commisso, and a host of other mobsters met on a regular basis in the 1960s and early 1970s.) As Judge Waisberg wrote:

The meeting which took place in the Mona Lisa Restaurant in the Spring of 1971 introduced to the lathing and drywall sector of the construction industry a new element. It was at that fateful meeting that Cesido Romanelli and Angelo Del Zotto took steps in the hiring of escorts. The chapter on violence [an earlier chapter of the Waisberg report dealing with the actual bombings and shootings] described an attempted telephone call from the restaurant, after which Angelo Del Zotto gave Romanelli the name of a man to contact. According to Simone, Romanelli did in fact make contact. Following that contact, a sinister array of characters was introduced to this sector of the industry...

Mob Rule Inside the Canadian Mafia, James Dubro, 1985

Local mobster Paul Volpe received a lot of attention in Waisberg's report and in media coverage of organized crime in Canada in the years that followed. Dubro described his role, methods and reach in Mob Rule:

Paul Volpe was acting as a fixer for both sides, for the unions and the companies, using conventional organized-crime techniques, including extortion, bombing, threats, and beatings, to keep certain people and certain companies in line...

Paul Volpe continued dealing with high-ranking union officials and unions, including those outside the construction industry, like the Teamsters-affiliated Launderers' Union in Toronto. He developed a close relationship with the president, Jimmy Hoffa's friend Gil Davis, who later mysteriously disappeared from Toronto after laundering some American Teamsters' pension money through New York City.

Gil Davis was well-known around T.O. as the shady sidekick of another connected Teamster and Laundry Workers' union honcho, Tommy Corrigan. Corrigan would have much to do with the hotel many years later.

In 1978, the Del Zotto's sold the hotel to a business called York-Hannover - which Dr.E points out sounds suspiciously like a contracted version of "Yanover" as in Charles Yanover, one of Paul Volpe's well-known criminal associates. Yanover would become famous later when he and a crew of neo-nazis were busted in a ridiculous plot to take over the island of Domenica. (Yanover, a gun merchant among other things, planned to supply the neo-nazis with firearms so that they could rule their perfect nazi kingdom.)

York-Hannover was headed by a German guy named Karsten von Weresbe who, along with a couple of other German crooks, would go on to foundCastor Holdings, a business that would be used to commit some legendary frauds - including the fleecing of the Chrysler Canada pension plan.

York Hannover began piling mortgages on the hotel property starting in 1981. By 1989, many of these were transferred to Castor Holdings which went bust in 1991 - the largest fraud-related bankruptcy in Canadian history. The RCMP are still trying to coax Castor's major player, von Wersebe's pal Wolfgang Stolzenberg out of Germany so they can bust him on 41 fraud-related charges stemming from the bankruptcy.

Paul Volpe was out of the picture by the time of the Castro bankruptcy, having turned up dead in the trunk of his luxury vehicle in 1983. But if he'd had his beak in the hotel, it's reasonable to assume that whoever whacked him (the smart money has been on the Montreal mob and its allies in Toronto and Hamilton), horned in on his turf. The over-mortgaging of the property continued apace until the place closed down in '91.

An even more colourful array of sinister characters moved in a few months later, when a sex offender and defrocked priest named Ron Kelly bought the business with a truckload of money from the Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan - a pension plan run by the Canadian UFCW and its grand poohbah Cliff Evans.

More over-mortgaging followed as Kelly fleeced the UFCW's pension plan while rubbing elbows with the crème de a crème of Canadian society. Prime Minister Jean Chretien himself held a fundraiser at the inauspicious two-star joint in 1995.

By the end of the 1990's, the place had fallen into disrepair. In 1998 Kelly sold a 50% interest to some hotel industry chumps from western Canada. He hung on to the other half, defaulted on his loans from the pension plan and ran off to the Bahamas where he proceeded to milk the pension plan some more.

The large concrete garage was even more of an eyesore. Staff reported that it was a convenient neighbourhood dumping ground for abandoned wrecks and other unpleasant items.

In 2003, a local builder named Joe Ieradi appeared on the scene with a plan to renovate the property to a triumphant rebirth. Ieradi had some cheesy hype that included stories of how he was one of the workers who originally built the hotel in 1975. He is believed to be associated with the Commisso family. The UFCW's pension plan provided some of the financing for the conversion of the hotel to the Westmount Condo (named, seemingly, after the posh Montreal suburb of Westmount.)

During the two-year period following Ieradi's arrival and the layoff of the 150 or so UFCW members who were sold down the river when their union reps sold the hotel, much information about the planned rebirth was presented on the MFD web site in the Mondo Condo series. Members also kept us informed through online discussions about the scary goings-on at the UFCW's Haunted House. One member even arranged a virtual mondo tour.

The building was painted a drab shade of beige, the new condo owners moved in but the dumpy garage lived on unchanged.

To the surprise of some in the neighbourhood, Ieradi's company, Dacapa Construction, recently announced a creative plan to put a 7-story tower on top of the garage. $24 million has been borrowed (from a bank in Vancouver) ostensibly to finance the project. The plan had a lot of eyes popping and some have wondered why or how it's possible to put a high-rise building on top of a decaying parkade. Municipal approval for "Phase 2" is stalled and not everyone is disappointed about that. The picture of the terraced building that seems to be floating in the sky looks impressive but picture it sitting atop of this and well, you get the picture.

What's the point of keeping this old parkade intact? Many people have wondered why a builder wouldn't just put in an underground garage and then put a building on top of that. There seems to be some kind of odd sentimentality or attachment to the pile of crumbling concrete. What's up with that?

This is where Dr. E's theory comes in: The boys who have had their hands in the place for more than three decades don't want to wake the dead.

Jimmy Hoffa buried at the corner of Keele Street and Wilson Avenue in suburban Toronto? It's at least as plausible as some of the other theories. In fact, as Dr.E points out, there are a lot of blips on the radar screen pointing in this direction.

The relationships between the local builders and the "families" for one. The timing of Hoffa's disappearance and the construction of the hotel. "The first job ads for the hotel started appearing during that week (of Hoffa's disappearance). F-----g Hoffa was still in wet cement out back at that time," Dr. E theorizes.

Then there is the relative ease with which he could have been transported across the border and whisked up Hwy. 401 to Toronto - the last place on earth that anyone would look for him. Then there's the odd name - Canary Cottage - of the discotheque that was located in the basement for many years after the hotel was built (one theory about the motive for Hoffa's murder is that he was about to become a snitch). Then there is the pension fleecing connection.

If Hoffa, who did prison time in the 1960's for his part in the mob-sponsored fleecing of the Teamsters' Central States Pension Plan, really was buried on the site of the former Triumph Hotel, there would be a sort of poetic justice in that considering the impressive line up of pension-fleecers who used the place to defraud others in the decades that followed.

Dr. E has gone so far as to suggest that the property may indeed have been an ancient burial ground for the unfortunate losers in various mob family feuds:

Montreal-Hamilton-Windsor...also known as the tri-fecta of Canadian border mob-towns. What connects them all? A major highway! And lucky for us, what sits in the hub of that connection? That would be the City of Toronto!...or more precisely the Municipality of North York!...or more precisely the land surrounding HWY 401 and HWY 400!...or even more precisely...the old hotel property at Keele St. and Wilson Ave.!

Hmmm...property records indicate that the "family" of friends and developers had ownership of the property at Keele and the 401 as early as 1968 (much earlier is possible), but curiously didn't start to build a hotel...until 1975. So one must wonder, and keep on wondering (if only I still smoked weed), what the land was being used for during that span.

Of course we all know that the bodies at that time had to go somewhere! OK, let's get the bodies out of Montreal, let's get the bodies out of Hamilton and let's get the bodies out of Windsor. How about we drive out of the city and to the spot where every-scum-knows-your-name...MOUNT MONDO CEMETERY!

...a really interesting "plot" (pun intended) of land located right off the 401 highway (and down the street from the airport). Can you picture it? That barren desert-like land on the north side there. Bring your shovel and lime.

After a while, Mount Mondo Cemetery would have become quite the popular meeting spot - even when a body was not available. They still came to pay their respects and to take a piss on an old friend or two. There soon became a growing need among the living visitors...food and shelter. Hasty funerals can be a tiring experience and it was pretty obvious to all that a hotel/eatery/bar/whore-house fronting the Mount Mondo Cemetery was a good idea. There was the added in-joke of the Keele-facing hotel representing a giant gravestone...each window representing a body on site. Who's gonna make the next reservation? Ba da bing ho ho!

But alas, after many years and with the construction scheduled up front, a rather full cemetery out back, the friends decided that Mount Mondo Cemetery would have to stop accepting packages. Except for a final one! Yes, it's possible that those old rumours provided by a certain insane Mondo Condo contributor are in fact true...good family friend JIMMY HOFFA was the last package delivered to Mount Mondo Cemetery back in the summer of 1975, just as the hotel was being built...straight across the Michigan border, through Windsor and down to his final resting place at 2737 Keele St.

Dr. E admits that his theory may sound a bit hair-raising to some, but he hastens to add, "Hey it's a better lead than they've gotten in 30 years!"

Happy haunted Hoffaween from uncharted.ca.

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