Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lombardo Clowns around in Court

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Frank Calabrese Sr., James "Little Jimmy" Marcello

After nine months in hiding, a clean-shaven Joey "the Clown" Lombardo appeared in federal court Tuesday wearing leg irons and offering wisecracks about his time on the lam. The reputed mob boss, who was captured Friday in Elmwood Park, pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy that includes accusations of murder and extortion.

Asked if he had seen a physician recently, Lombardo's response to the judge to U.S. District Judge James Zagel was true to his nickname. "I didn't see my doctor since nine months ago. I was - what do they call it? I was unavailable," he said. Meanwhile, Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, requested, meanwhile, that the court appoint him to represent Lombardo because the reputed Outfit kingpin doesn't have the means to pay for his own attorney, he said. "He's been living off Social Security for years," Halprin said in an interview.

A former federal agent who investigated Lombardo expressed doubt about that. "That's another ruse - that's Joey the Clown. The guy was definitely making big-time bucks when he was still active," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who supervised the organized crime task force in the early 1990s. Lombardo was part of the "ruling group" of Chicago's mob, Flosi said. "As far as being the boss, I don't think that was ever settled," he said.

Halprin said that during Lombardo's many years on parole for previous convictions, he has filed financial affidavits swearing he is on a fixed income. "He lived in a basement," Halprin said, referring to Lombardo's West Ohio Street home, not his location while on the lam.

Lombardo, 77, was dressed in the a standard orange jumpsuit of issued to federal jail inmates, Lombardo, 77, and had shaved a the thick beard he had grown while on the run. He joked in the courtroom lockup that the his fresh look was meant to impress a female deputy U.S. marshal assigned to guard him.

In court, Lombardo initially appeared confused, glancing around at lawyers for his 11 co-defendants, the packed gallery in the benches behind him, and the jury box filled with reporters. But despite some difficulty hearing questions put to him by U.S. District Judge James Zagel, Lombardo answered lucidly. (Does every reputed mobster lose their hearing?)

Lombardo is one of 14 men charged in a racketeering conspiracy that prosecutors allege involved 18 unsolved Outfit murders. Two of Lombardo's co-defendants have died, leaving 12 to face the charges. Along with Frank "the German" Schweihs, Lombardo is charged specifically with the 1974 slaying of Daniel Seifert, a Bensenville businessman who had been scheduled to testify against him and others in a Teamsters pension fraud case. Halprin has said that Lombardo was in a police station, reporting stolen property, when Seifert was killed.

Schweihs, who was captured in December after 8 months as being a fugitive for eight months, refused to appear in court Tuesday after pleading not guilty January 7. Zagel said he will force Schweihs to appear and a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. For his part, Lombardo seemed in good spirits during the Tuesday's hearing. He raised his right hand and promised to tell "nothin' but the truth."

He told Zagel he is under care for hardening of the arteries but didn't offer a long list of health woes like some of his co-defendants. Apart from telling Zagel that he was a high school graduate, the rest of Lombardo's statements were limited to yes and or no answers responses.

A federal investigation dubbed "Operation Family Secrets" led to the arrests of Lombardo and other Outfit figures, including Frank Calabrese Sr. and James Marcello. Included among the murders allegedly connected to the defendants are the famed 1986 beating deaths of Tony and Michael Spilotro. Federal agents believe Tony Spilotro, a mob enforcer who ran the Outfit's operations in Las Vegas, was slain for drawing too much heat. (This is one of the few articles that does not mention that Joe Pesci played this role in the movie Casino. I thought I would add it so youse do not go into shock from not seeing that comment.)

In a letter Lombardo penned to Zagel while he was in hiding, the alleged mob boss denied any knowledge of about any of the 18 killings. "I was not privy before the murders, during the murders, and after the murders, and to this present writing to you," the letter stated.

The Chicago Crime Commission says the crimes are nothing to laugh about. "These are brutal people. They resort to killing, and especially the murder that Joe Lombardo is accused of doing in this indictment, was extremely brutal, inasmuch as the man was killed in front of his own family. He was going to be a witness against several defendants, including Joe Lombardo," said Jim Wagner, Chicago Crime Commission.

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