Friday, August 17, 2007

Did Testifying Backfire for Lombardo?

There's a reason professional criminals don't generally take the witness stand in their own defense, as anyone watching Wednesday's cross-examination of Joey "The Clown" Lombardo could see for themselves.

It has the potential to backfire.

After another half day of trying to put his own spin on his alleged criminal activities, Lombardo had to face up to questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitch Mars, and the results were not pretty for the defense.

Lombardo was left parsing his words like a lawyer, albeit a jailhouse lawyer, as he explained away wiretap conversations involving apparent mob activity by arguing over the meaning of the word "we."

"We" seemed to plainly refer to Lombardo and his mob associates, but Lombardo, who contends he was never a part of organized crime in Chicago despite two previous convictions, said it really meant "they" or anybody but him.

"We never means 'we' in this conversation," Lombardo said of a taped chat with Louie "The Mooch" Eboli over how to muscle a new massage parlor that was encroaching on the turf of massage parlors controlled by other mob bosses.

It got so ridiculous at one point that Lombardo even invoked by inference former President Bill Clinton's fight over the word "is" during his impeachment proceedings. "Just like the president did. He didn't choose the right words," Lombardo said of his own choice of words.

Earlier in the day, Lombardo gave the jurors a primer on "street taxes," the Chicago mob's term for extortion payments. Lombardo tried to draw a distinction between an "investment tax," in which a "businessman" such as him "invests" in an activity and then takes a pre-determined cut, and a "muscle tax," which is nothing but a shakedown demanding money for the opportunity to remain in business.

At least, that's my interpretation of what he said.

In Lombardo's mind, only the muscle tax is against the law, a delineation that is clearly not shared by prosecutors.

Mars, who has made it his career to pursue the Chicago mob, seemed choked with emotion in the opening stages of his scathing cross-examination, which came as close as you'll get to seeing television-style drama in a real courtroom.

While he didn't budge Lombardo from his basic contention that he had nothing to do with the mob, he exposed its absurdity at various junctures, such as when Lombardo admitted that his family cleared more than $2 million on a sweetheart investment arranged by the late mob lawyer Allen Dorfman.

You won't believe where Lombardo now says he was holed up during most of those eight months on the lam from federal authorities. Right under my nose in Oak Park. That's right. The People's Republic of Oak Park, home of more news media representatives per capita than any other place in the Chicago area, though formerly the home of many of Chicago's top mobsters.

Aren't you glad you had us on the case?

Lombardo says he was hiding out in a basement flat owned by "some guy" named Joe. He still did not disclose the exact location.

Lombardo said the hideaway was arranged for him by his friend Georgie Colucci, whom Lombardo called from his car while parked at a golf driving range at 22nd and Wolf Road, which I presume to be the one at Fresh Meadow golf course in Hillside.

"He said stay right there," Lombardo said. "He sent some kid."

The kid drove him to Joe's place in Oak Park, which Lombardo said was "like an apartment."

Lombardo was eventually arrested in Elmwood Park, where he had been staying with another friend for just a few days, according to previous testimony in the trial.

He said those were the only two places he used to hide.

I'm not sure whether the feds believe Lombardo, who made his whereabouts during that period an issue by testifying Wednesday that he never thought he was in violation of federal law while eluding capture because he never crossed state lines. They certainly found that notion preposterous.

Lombardo said he'd always intended to surrender as soon as his co-defendants completed their trials because he didn't think it was fair that he should be charged with participating in a conspiracy with them, some of whom he'd never met before this trial.

Showing the jury a photo of Lombardo with his long hair and beard when he was captured, Mars asked if he thought that was funny.

"A little joke once in a while doesn't hurt," said The Clown.

Thanks to Mark Brown

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