Sunday, March 26, 2006

Intelligence Report: Operation Family Secrets

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo

It has been nearly a year since the upper echelon of the Chicago outfit was indicted in the biggest mob murder case in US history, Operation Family Secrets. In our intelligence report, ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie has new details about one of the mobsters charged and one who isn't, at least not yet.

The one who is charged, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, may be the reason that top hoodlum John Difronzo hasn't been charged as mobwatchers and many defense lawyers figured. You may remember that Joe Lombardo was a federal fugitive since being indicted last spring.

Early this year, just as federal prosecutors were looking to add Difronzo to the indictment, Lombardo was finally caught, temporarily interrupting the government's plan to expand the indictment.

Eighteen murders have been pinned on the who's who of gangland Chicago that was indicted in Operation Family Secrets. When Joe Lombardo was finally arrested in January, after the FBI couldn't find him for nine months, he was the highest ranking reputed member of the Chicago mob to be charged in the case.

Notable by his absence from the indictment was John Difronzo, the same age as Lombardo, 77.

If law enforcement considers Lombardo to be chairman of the board, then Difronzo is the outfit's chief operating officer.

Difronzo claims to be a used car salesman, but federal authorities believe he had a supervisory role in many of the crimes that have been charged against 14 outfit defendants in operation family secrets. Investigators say that Difronzo is a key link His rap sheet lists 26 arrests. Most recently he was convicted in a mob scheme to take over an Indian casino in Southern California and did federal time.

Difronzo is nicknamed "no nose," but not because police once shot him in the proboscis as mob lore has it. Actually, half of Difronzo's nose was sliced off as he jumped through a window during a fur store robbery.

Police caught him at the end of the blood trail and gave his nose back to him. The trail connecting Difronzo to Operation Family Secrets has been more complicated, according to investigators, in a case that has been 30 years in the making.

While researching this intelligence report, the I-Team found a painting of Lombardo for sale on the internet. The North Carolina artist, Gerhardt Isringhaus, tells us his girlfriend has a "clown phobia" and that's why he painted it. Isringhaus says he painted bullet holes in the background, figuring Lombardo has dodged gunfire most of his life. The artist grew up in St. Louis and says his next door neighbor was a seamstress who made wedding gowns for Chicago mob families.

Lombardo is housed at the federal lockup in the Loop, where Operation Family Secrets defendants have been abuzz at talk that Difronzo may be cooperating with the government, an unlikely scenario that defense lawyers deny.

Difronzo's attorney Carl Walsh says that he knows nothing of a pending indictment against his client. The US attorney's office declined comment.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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