The Bad Old Days of Tony Pro

November 27, 2019

John Bendel

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I’ll never forget the signs along Tonnelle Avenue, on phone poles, fences, and soot-stained brick walls. Some read “Vote United.” Others said “Vote Pro.” It was all about an election for president of a Teamster local – not just any local, but badass Local 560.

Tonnelle Avenue, designated U.S. Routes 1 and 9, is a four-lane urban highway through Hudson County, N.J. Back then it was dotted with truck terminals, mostly of LTLs that dominated trucking then. With the George Washington Bridge and two tunnels to Manhattan just a few miles away, it was cheaper for carriers to set up shop here than in the city. I became a Teamster driver at the A-P-A Transport terminal along Tonnelle Avenue in 1967. A-P-A drivers were in a different local, something rare along the gritty roadway. Even so, we were all aware of who and what those old signs were about.

I learned “Pro” meant Anthony Provenzano, president of Local 560. He was known as Tony Pro. “United” was a group within the local that opposed him. A United candidate ran against Tony Pro for the union presidency in 1962 and 1965, losing both times, but the signs remained, tattered and fading, almost into the 1980s.

Tony Pro’s style

I don’t remember who the actual United candidate was, but according to rumor at the time he was shot dead in a parking lot just before that last election. That was not true – at least not precisely true. Even so, it bolstered Tony Pro’s reputation as one dangerous dude. Only years later did I learn just how dangerous.

After that election, United claimed in court it had actually won, but a judge said to be in Tony Pro’s pocket dismissed their complaints. And while it wasn’t the candidate who was shot, there was a United supporter, a driver named Walter Glockner who was. Glockner tried to speak with Tony after a meeting, got in a scuffle with one of Tony’s thugs, and was shot dead in front of his Hoboken home the next morning, according to a number of sources. There’s more to the Glockner story, but this part did happen.

It was Tony Pro’s style. He didn’t like opposition. According to legend, some protesting drivers who once came to a meeting through the front door exited through a plate glass window. There was plenty to protest, Local 560 officials collected off-the-books cash from carriers to ensure “labor peace.” Tony himself lived in a North Jersey house, a “gift” from a trucking company owner. Tony and his crew collected protection money from some of the biggest carriers in the country.

Tony Pro’s Genovese crime family connection

Tony Pro worked as a dockman, a driver, as a shop steward, as an organizer for Local 560, as president of Local 560, and as vice president of the national Teamsters. He was also a “made” member of the notorious Vito Genovese crime family. Tony Pro’s people, Local 560 shop stewards and business agents, ran gambling and loan-sharking rackets, kicking back to the boss. Many of their customers, of course, were the drivers and dock workers of the local.

Small-time people who opposed or annoyed Tony Pro were beaten, bombed, shotgunned, or as we have seen, tossed through plate glass windows. If they lived, they didn’t bother Tony Pro anymore. Big-time foes earned a different fate: oblivion.

Tony Pro was helped in his career by a Genovese mobster named Anthony “Tony Bender” Strollo, who just disappeared one day. So did Local 560 officer Anthony Castellitto. For some reason, people around Tony Pro simply vanished.

One of them was the famous Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa.

In the mid-1960s, Tony Pro was convicted of extorting $17,000 from a carrier and sent to the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., where he quickly became the unofficial boss of the place. Hoffa was there too on a jury-tampering rap. Initially they were friends, at least until Tony Pro learned Hoffa was still earning his full Teamster pension as Teamster president emeritus. Tony Pro had been a vice president but was not collecting his pension while in jail. That’s how trouble started. At one point later, Hoffa told Provenzano “It’s because of people like you that I got into trouble in the first place.” Tony Pro was deeply insulted.

Hoffa left Lewisburg first, his sentence commuted by President Nixon after an alleged large donation to his 1972 re-election campaign. But the rift with Tony Pro only worsened. According to one account, the two met accidentally at an unnamed airport and, before their pals could separate them, they got into a vicious fist fight in which Hoffa broke a bottle over Tony Pro’s head. Tony vowed to take vengeance on Hoffa’s grandchildren and to tear his heart out – something he pretty much did.

Hoffa’s death

There is no doubt Tony Pro engineered Hoffa’s death. But here the story goes in all directions, probably because it became so famous. Some people involved saw an opportunity for attention by telling their own self-serving versions. So did people who had no connection and no idea whatever actually happened.

Some claim Local 560 business agent Sal Briguglio shot Hoffa. In the book “I Hear You Paint Houses,” (and in the new movie “The Irishman” based on it) author Charles Brandt asserts it was long-time Hoffa friend and driver, Frank Sheeran.

One account claims Hoffa was buried on land owned by a mobster some miles away from Bloomfield, Mich., where he was last seen alive. Others say Hoffa’s body was stuffed in a 55-gallon drum and taken to New Jersey so Tony Pro could see for himself that Hoffa was dead. After that, depending on who you believe, Hoffa’s body was buried under what is now the Meadowlands Sports Complex, in a Jersey City landfill, on a lot in Garfield, N.J., or dumped in the ocean.

I tend go with the version allegedly from an FBI memo that says Hoffa’s body suffered the same fate as at least one other Tony Pro victim, Anthony Castellitto. Like Castellitto, Hoffa was put through a garbage shredder, and the remains were burned in an incinerator.

Tony Pro, ultimately convicted for his part in the murder of Castellitto, died in prison of heart failure in 1988. He was 71.

While Tony Pro was otherwise involved, Local 560 was run by his brothers, Nunzio and Salvatore. Salvatore, Sally Pro as he was known, was running the place when I interviewed him in 1974 about the recession in trucking. We met in his office at Local 560’s five-story, pie-shaped headquarters where Tony Pro raised pigeons on the roof. I remembered asking my wife, Peg, to call the cops if I didn’t return. But Sal was polite and businesslike and spent almost 45 minutes with me. But all that appeared in the resulting New York Times story was a single comment he had made.

Sally Pro did not have me beaten, bombed, thrown though plate glass window, or disappeared, but he did call to tell me he was pissed off.

Phew.

John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.