Friday, February 10, 2006

Lombardo Claims He Has No Money - Feds To Pay Attorneys For Joey "The Clown"

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo

Lawyers for Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo got permission Thursday to collect their fees from the government, while federal prosecutors got the green light to do whatever it takes to prove that the reputed mob boss isn't as broke as he claims to be. Lombardo, 77, who claims he can't pay his lawyers because he has no money, appeared in court in an orange prison jumpsuit, wore his usual puzzled expression and said nothing.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel granted defense attorney Rick Halprin and an associate permission to represent Lombardo at public expense but said he might change his mind if federal prosecutors can prove that there has been "a fraud or a bad-faith exchange of assets." "The government is free to investigate to its heart's content," Zagel said.

Prosecutors noted that Lombardo was carrying $3,000 in cash the night of Jan. 13 when an FBI organized-crime squad caught him in a suburban Elmwood Park alley after eight months on the run. Lombardo is among 14 reputed mob figures charged in April 2005 with a racketeering conspiracy that included plotting at least 18 murders as far back as 1970.

When agents went to arrest him on that charge, Lombardo had vanished and immediately became the target of a high-profile manhunt. Lombardo claims to have had no income since May 2005. He was convicted and sent to prison along with former International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams in a 1982 bribery-conspiracy case.

Prosecutors said in court papers that "the FBI has obtained information that after the completion of his parole status on June 15, 2002, the defendant traveled to France for approximately 10 days, arriving in Paris on July 11, 2002, and continuing on to Nice."

"The defendant flew back to Chicago from France on July 21, 2002," prosecutors said. "The government respectfully submits that these facts including a 10-day trip abroad are not consistent with the need for a court-appointed lawyer."

Prosecutors said that after being indicted in the 1982 case Lombardo transferred "substantial assets" to a trust that benefits his children, Joseph and Joanne, "in an apparent attempt to put funds beyond the reach of the government." His ex-wife, Marion, is the trustee.

Prosecutors said Marion Lombardo appears to have sold three parcels in Florida held by the MJJ Trust for more than $4.5 million in 2003. They said there is a May 1992 dissolution of marriage record but that it appears the Lombardos lived together until the latest indictment. They said two warranty deeds recording the sale of the Florida property referred to Marion Lombardo as "a married woman."

Halprin scoffed at the government's claims, telling Zagel that the assets had been placed in "an irrevocable trust" for Lombardo's family. He said that if the government thinks Lombardo has money prosecutors should prove it. He did acknowledge that the trust might revert to Lombardo if his wife, son and daughter all died. But he said that considering his client's age, "That is worth about the same as 5,000 shares of Enron stock."

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