Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Joey the Clown Denies He was a Fugitive to Avoid Mob Arrest

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Frank Calabrese, James Marcello, Paul Schiro, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro

Reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo pleaded not guilty today to a charge that he went on the lam to avoid arrest.

In a brief hearing in federal court, Lombardo pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice. The charge was tacked onto a sweeping indictment of several defendants in a federal investigation of long-unsolved mob murders and other crimes.

Lombardo and Frank "The German" Schweihs allegedly went on the run to avoid FBI agents after prosecutors unveiled the first version of the Operation Family Secrets racketeering indictment in April 2005.

Schweihs was captured in Kentucky in December 2005, and Lombardo was caught in Elmwood Park in January 2006. Schweihs was not in court Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Lombardo attorney Rick Halprin said the government could not charge Lombardo with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution because it could not prove that he had crossed state lines -- a key provision of the law. He said the second choice was charging Lombardo with attempting to "impede and obstruct" efforts to arrest him. But Halprin said that at no time did Lombardo's absence from court impede and obstruct the case.

Reputed mobsters Lombardo, Schweihs, Frank Calabrese, James Marcello, and Paul Schiro and nine others are charged with conspiring to commit 18 murders going back three decades. The murders include the 1986 hit on Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the mob's man in Las Vegas.

The charges grow out of a decades-old federal investigation known as "Family Secrets." Jury selection is expected to start in May, and the trial is expected to last four or five months.

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