Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lawyer on Lombardo: Hustler? Yes, Gangster? No

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Anthony Doyle, Nicholas Calabrese
Friends of mine: Frank Calabrese Jr.

Lawyer Rick Halprin stood a step from the jury box Monday at the Family Secrets trial and painted a picture of a vastly misunderstood Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

Lowering his normally deep, echoing voice, Halprin contended the reputed leader of the Outfit's Grand Avenue street crew was "a hustler and not a gangster," telling jurors that his client's ambition got him tangled up with the wrong crowd and mislabeled a mobster. "Joey Lombardo is not, was not and never has been a capo or a made member of the Chicago Outfit," Halprin said.

His remarks came after federal prosecutors completed seven weeks of often-dramatic evidence and the defense opened for the five men on trial in a conspiracy case that at its heart involves 18 long-unsolved gangland slayings.

The trial's next few days could be pivotal as Lombardo and another key defendant, Frank Calabrese Sr., are expected to testify on their own behalf, their attorneys said. Former Chicago Police Officer Anthony Doyle, another defendant in the case, may testify as well.

The investigation's Family Secrets code-name came as a result of cooperation by Calabrese's brother and son. In recent testimony, the brother, Nicholas, an admitted Outfit hit man, implicated Calabrese in more than a dozen of the mob killings. The son, Frank Jr., also testified after secretly recording conversations with his father.

The task could be tall as well for Lombardo, 78, as he tries to dispel his image as one of Chicago's most clever and colorful organized-crime figures of recent decades.

In a highly unusual, strategic move Monday, Halprin delivered his opening statement on Lombardo's behalf weeks after the landmark trial began in late June and other defense lawyers addressed jurors. Halprin denied his client took part as charged in the massive criminal conspiracy but admitted he had one connection to questionable activities on the West Side. "He did, in fact, run the oldest, most reliable craps game on Grand Avenue," Halprin said with a smile.

Lombardo sat back at his defense table, watching his lawyer. At one point he looked toward the courtroom gallery while adjusting his glasses, as if gauging reaction.

Halprin's remarks lasted about 30 minutes. He stood away from a lectern, gesturing with his hands and explaining Lombardo's point of view.

Halprin portrayed Lombardo as a businessman who fell into trouble after mixing with the wrong people. He was friends with men such as mob-connected bail bondsman Irwin Weiner and labor racketeer Allen Dorfman and got swept up in their schemes, he said. Lombardo was convicted with Dorfman in an attempt to bribe the late U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada, Halprin told jurors, and was later convicted of skimming millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino. But Lombardo played a minor role, Halprin said, and didn't see a dime of any casino cash. He was snared in the case because he spent time at Dorfman's office while the FBI was wiretapping conversations there.

In prison in the 1980s, Lombardo had an epiphany, the lawyer said. "He knew for the rest of his life, in the public's perception, [it would be]: reputed mobster, reputed gang boss," Halprin said. "He decides to withdraw from his past life."

Lombardo took out a newspaper ad in the early 1990s claiming he wasn't a made member of the mob and asking anyone who witnessed him commit a crime to call his probation officer or the FBI.

He has held to a lawful lifestyle ever since, Halprin said, working at an upholstery factory and minding his own business.

Jurors would not see a witness come into the courtroom and identify the Lombardo of the past decade as anything "other than older, smarter, wiser and a decent citizen," Halprin promised.

Halprin denied Lombardo played any part in the 1974 murder of federal witness Daniel Seifert, the lone killing in which he has been implicated. Seifert was fatally shot before he could testify against Lombardo and others in a fraud case. But Halprin said his client was 20 miles away in a restaurant at the time of the killing.

Also Monday, a defense witness testified he witnessed the 1983 murders of Richard Ortiz and Arthur Morawski and contradicted the testimony of Nick Calabrese, the government's star witness. Terry Pretto, 56, who was the first witness called for Frank Calabrese Sr., testified he lived above the Cicero bar owned by Ortiz at the time of the murder.

Pretto said several times that he was "petrified" to be testifying and faced the wrong way as he was about to be sworn in Monday. U.S. District Judge James Zagel asked him to turn around and face the bench. "Sorry guy," Pretto said.

The gray-haired Pretto said he left his pregnant wife upstairs to buy a six pack of beer on the night of the shooting when he saw a man standing in front of Ortiz's car. Pretto said a single gunman with no mask or gloves shot the men. He identified the gunman as a Cicero police sergeant.

Calabrese testified that he and his brother carried out the killing after Ortiz crossed the Outfit.

On cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars, Pretto acknowledged he never gave a statement about what he contends he saw until May 2000, 17 years after the murders.

Mars pressed him for details, and Pretto admitted again that he was flustered. "I'm scared," said Pretto, even telling the prosecutor "you might come after me tonight."

"No, I guarantee it won't be me," Mars answered.

Mars also asked if it was possible Pretto was naming the police officer because he had a grudge against him. He asked if Pretto remembered giving a statement saying that the officer had once handcuffed him in Cicero and beaten him up.

Pretto said he didn't recall. "I've been handcuffed a lot of times in Cicero," he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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