Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saluting the Best Mafiosa Court Room Antics

Friends of ours: Frank "the German" Schweihs, Sam “Mad Sam” DeStefano, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, John Gotti, Joey “Doves” Aiuppa, Jackie “The Lackey” Cerone, Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Judge Thomas Maloney

“The Sopranos” might have ended, but the first episode of Chicago’s latest mob drama begins Tuesday.

How fitting that the official festivities will take place in the feds’ ceremonial courtroom. The Outfit is big on ceremony, beginning with the oath that “made” guys take. They also take an oath of Omerta, promising never to talk about family secrets to the big bad wolf with the menacing initials: FBI. But how many of us can keep a good secret for life? So, between the gangsters who are desirous of saving their own hides and those who have or will be pleading guilty to high crimes and non-misdemeanors, only five wiseguys are expected to actually be sitting on their ceremonial behinds when jury selection begins Tuesday.

The lawyers for La Cosa Nostra have some serious work ahead of them in the next four or five months. I’m talking about the new, outlandish stunts the hoods will need if they expect to get a mention in the Mob’s Greatest Trial Antics.

It appeared as though Frank “The German” Schweihs might offer the first memorable moment. The German, who was one of the Outfit’s most feared and proficient hitmen, according to federal authorities, is said to be terminally ill.

There was a time when Schweihs would have come to trial with the rest of them, his skin pasty white and IV tubes plugged into his veins, a sad and pathetic character worthy of great sympathy from the jury. But now, Schweihs has been “severed” from the trial, which seems to be an apt legal description for somebody who federal authorities say cut short a few dozen lives himself.

Judge James Zagel didn’t want Schweihs dying one day during the case and creating a mistrial for the others, so he allowed him time to heal … a consideration that Mr. Schweihs himself allegedly would rarely grant those who begged him for mercy.

Schweihs could have followed the script written by Sam “Mad Sam” DeStefano back in the ’60s. The vicious mob enforcer would feign illness so he had to be wheeled into court on a gurney while wearing pajamas. Once, Mad Sam used a bullhorn in the courtroom so he was assured of being louder than prosecutors.

The crafty New York mafia boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante use to wear his bathrobe to court, mumble to himself and claim God was his lawyer in an effort to persuade jurors that he was deranged. It worked for many years until The Chin was eventually convicted. In 2003, two years before he died in prison, Gigante admitted it had all been an act.

The best courtroom performance by a mob lawyer was in 1986 by Bruce Cutler, who was representing John Gotti at the time. Cutler took the thick federal indictment against Gotti and stuffed it in a courtroom wastebasket. “It’s garbage,” Cutler shouted at prosecutors. “That’s where it belongs.”

Sickness and sympathy has been a favorite play by hoodlums for decades. When Chicago Outfit boss Joey “Doves” Aiuppa was on trial in Kansas City 20 years ago, Aiuppa hunched over a walker coming and going from court. Nevertheless, he managed to get in and out of a taxi and his hotel just fine.

During that same trial, Aiuppa’s vice consigliore Jackie “The Lackey” Cerone delivered a veiled threat to a Chicago news reporter while they were riding on a crowded elevator.

“How’s the wife and that new baby of yours?” Cerone asked the newsman, whose coverage he must have under appreciated. The question stunned the reporter, who certainly never had spoken to Cerone about his wife or his new daughter, Caylen Goudie.

Once, in 1983, I asked the infamous Outfit tough-guy Tony “The Ant” Spilotro a question that now seems prophetic.

“Tony, are you concerned for your personal safety?” I asked The Ant as he bailed out of Cook County jail.

Spilotro just sneered at me … a far different look than he must have displayed three years later when he and his brother were clubbed and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield.

When defrocked Cook County Judge Thomas Maloney was on trial for taking bribes to fix murder cases, the mob-connected Maloney tried his best every day to avoid TV crews staked out in front of the federal building.

Once, Maloney thought he had outsmarted news jockeys by sneaking into the federal building basement and walking up a ramp from the underground parking garage.

Not to be tricked, camera crews were waiting atop the ramp when Maloney strutted up dressed in a black trench coat and fedora. He began running across Adams Street in the Loop, pursued by TV crews until he tripped and did a belly flop onto the asphalt, staggering to his feet with a mouthful of gravel.

The finest out-of-court routine was put on by Joey “The Clown” Lombardo, who will go on trial again Tuesday. Years ago when he was free on bond, The Clown enjoyed living up to his nickname by shielding his face from photographers using a newspaper with cut-out eyeholes.

While he was a fugitive, Lombardo wrote a letter to Judge Zagel, who is hearing his case, stating that he was unfairly targeted by prosecutors who could convict “a hamburger” in federal court.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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