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In Martin Scorsese’s latest mafia movie, "The Irishman," loosely based on a true story, there's a whole host of fascinating, dramatic characters. Of course, there's the titular "Irishman," Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) a mob hitman, and the man he took credit for killing: Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the mafia associate and union leader whose mysterious disappearance has fascinated true crime fans ever since he vanished off the face of the earth.
But those aren't the only characters based off true characters in the Netflix film: Anthony “Tony” Provenzano, a loud dresser and ruthless mob guy, quickly grabs viewers' eyes. So what's Provenzano's real life story?
In "The Irishman," Provenzano, played by Stephen Graham, is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters vice president for Teamsters Local 560 (a union) in Union City, New Jersey. He's also a capo for a mafia family, which makes sense as the mafia has its fingerprints all over the Teamsters’ business. (Case in point: Hoffa, who was sent to prison briefly for mixing the mafia in with Teamsters' money.)
Provenzano has no qualms about fighting for what he wants in the movie — he even has someone killed for getting more votes than him in a Teamsters election, despite them being on the same side of the ticket and running for a different and lower office. So, of course, once he meets the quick-tempered Hoffa in prison, they butt heads.
In the movie’s depiction, Provenzano asks Hoffa for Provenzano's pension money while they're both serving time for mishandling Teamsters money. Hoffa refuses, which results in a prison cafeteria fight where Hoffa uses the phrase, “you people,” which Provenzano takes as a slur against Italian-Americans. Later, at a post-prison meeting, they fight again and Provenzano threatens to kill Hoffa and kidnap his granddaughter.
While the legitimacy of the most dramatic and pivotal elements of “The Irishman” have been questioned, particularly how accurate its claim Hoffa was killed by Sheeran is, the movie's depiction of Provenzano is pretty true to life.
The actual Provenzano, known as “Tony Pro,” was a capo for the New York City area’s Genovese crime family. He was also vice president for Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey. Like Hoffa, he did time for misusing union funds and their incarceration time did actually overlap. Provenzano was in for extortion, whereas Hoffa was serving time for fraud, a distinction Hoffa comically makes in the movie.
The two also hated each other, just like in the movie. Their feud began while they were both in prison together, according to Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which served as a basis for the film “The Irishman.”
“Jimmy refused to help Pro go around the federal law and get his $1.2 million pension when he went to jail, while Jimmy got his $1.7 million pension even though he went to jail, too,” Sheeran claimed in that account.
Sheeran also alleged in the book that a few years later, they tried to play nice during a meeting at a Teamsters Convention but that ended quickly: “Tony Pro threatened to rip Jimmy’s guts out with his bare hands and kill his grandchildren.”
Most damning of all, Sheeran claimed that Hoffa wanted to have Provenzano (who he referred to as “the little guy”) killed. But even though Hoffa was a powerful man, Sheeran noted that mob capos simply had more power.
The FBI, as reported on by the Chicago Tribune in 1985, had Provenzano listed among the key suspects in Hoffa's mysterious vanishing in 1975.
Provenzano was later convicted in 1978 for ordering the murder of Anthony Castellito, Local Teamsters 560's secretary-treasurer in 1961, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. While imprisoned, he was also convicted of labor racketeering charges.
He died of heart disease in federal prison in 1989.
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