Thursday, January 19, 2006

Joey the Clown turns court into a media circus

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, Vincent "Jimmy Boy" Mosccio, Guido Cicero Pelini, Al Capone

The joint was jumping and it was all for Joey. I got to federal court early Tuesday knowing there would be a crowd. Within minutes, in came my Sun-Times colleague Mark Brown, a raft of other newspaper reporters, followed by the Associated Press, WBBM's Newsradio 780, three courtroom artists and every TV station in town. We had all come to get a good look at the notorious Chicago mob kingpin who had outwitted the FBI for nine embarrassing months.

When he was finally grabbed by a team of agents in an alley in Elmwood Park on Friday night, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo sported long hair and bushy beard. This infamous federal fugitive looked like a cross between Howard Hughes and one of the Smith Brothers of cough drop fame. But by the time The Clown was escorted into court Tuesday morning, his beard had been shaved and his hair had been cropped by a prison barber. But that wasn't what was so striking.

Joey "The Clown" Lombardo is tiny. A little chunky around the midsection perhaps but a tiny man nonetheless. At 77, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and leg irons, he shuffled into court appearing almost dazed or bewildered. He wore a goofy little smile as he promised U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel that he would tell him "nuttin' but the truth." And got a laugh from the gallery when Zagel asked had he seen a doctor recently. "I was supposed to see him nine months ago," said The Clown, "but I was, ah, what do they call it, I was unavailable."

It was nine months ago the feds indicted Lombardo and 13 others in the landmark "Family Secrets" case that spans more than 40 years and encompasses 18 old, cold, mob murder cases as well as gambling, extortion, conspiracy and racketeering.

Right now, a number of the defendants are being held in the federal lockup downtown but are not allowed to see or talk to one another. Joe Lopez, attorney for the imprisoned defendant Frank Calabrese Sr., complained to Zagel that such isolation is a hardship for the men because they "can't go to church together or the law library together."

Lombardo's attorney, Rich Halprin, wasn't about to join Lopez in any effort to reunite the boys behind bars. "Joey has stated on the record he doesn't know the other defendants," Halprin said. Of course not.

The Clown, by the way, is broke. Busted with about $3,000 in cash, beyond that the cupboard is allegedly bare and so Lombardo is asking the judge to appoint Halprin as his federal public defender. Anybody who thinks Lombardo isn't smart doesn't know what they're talking about. And they haven't watched him as he whispers in his lawyer's ear. Then and only then do you see his eyes harden and narrow. And his bewildered "Gosh, I'm just not sure what's going on" demeanor replaced by an ice-cold intensity.

In all, I counted 11 defense attorneys crowding around the judge Tuesday. Like Halprin, many of them are well-known in their own right, expensive and experienced when it comes to not answering reporter's questions. Longtime attorney Arthur Nasser comes to mind. Who of the defendants, I asked him Tuesday, is the boss of the Chicago Outfit? Is Joey "The Clown" running it or, say, Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, another of the defendants? "I don't know what you mean by 'running it'?" Nasser deadpanned.

The last time I talked to Nasser was in 1994. I had just dropped by the Forest Park home of another of his clients, Vincent "Jimmy Boy" Mosccio, to ask if he would do an interview. Jimmy Boy was in his late 60s. He and a partner, Guido Cicero Pelini, who was 70-something, were reputed to be "The Pineapple Bandits." That is to say, they dealt in large quantities of merchandise known as "stuff that falls off the truck." These elderly mob cartage thieves managed to make off with about $7 million in cases of Mr. Muscle Oven Cleaner, Drano, and Dole Pineapple. Hence, "The Pineapple Bandits."

While I sat in Mosccio's living room, he dialed his attorney, Mr. Nasser, to advise him of my visit which, after that call, abruptly ended. It wasn't too long after that that Mosccio and Pelini went off to federal prison.

I recount this little tale as just one, small example of how old mobsters don't retire. And from the days of Al Capone to the present, nobody, not Eliot Ness, not even U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, has put them out of business. At least, not yet.

Thanks to Carol Marin

1 comment:

  1. pelini died years ago (2/22/09)


    has he quit yet?

    ReplyDelete