The Chicago Syndicate: Joey the Clown Becomes Court Ringmaster
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Joey the Clown Becomes Court Ringmaster

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Irwin Weiner, Allen Dorfman

After stopping momentarily to flirt with the blond court reporter and swearing to tell the truth with a raspy "I do," Joey "the Clown" Lombardo lowered himself onto the witness stand with the help of a cane.

The 78-year-old with a Caesar haircut leaned toward the microphone Tuesday afternoon and took off his rounded eyeglasses, settling in to answer his lawyer's questions at the landmark Family Secrets trial.

Joseph 'Joey the Clown' Lombardo Testifies at Family Secrets Mob Trial.With the revelation last week that one of the city's quirkiest reputed mob figures would take the stand in his own defense, his testimony became one of the most anticipated moments in a trial that already has earned a place in Chicago mob lore.

A long line of spectators waited for a seat in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse's largest courtroom, filled to capacity with federal judges, FBI supervisors, veteran federal prosecutors, a flock of reporters and dozens of the simply curious.

Defense attorney Rick Halprin wasted no time in getting to the heart of the charges, asking Lombardo whether he took part in killing federal witness Daniel Seifert in 1974 and whether he was a "capo" in the Chicago Outfit.

"Positively no," Lombardo responded to both questions.

Lombardo is a reputed organized-crime figure with a flair for humor and theatrics, known for once leaving a court date with a mask made of newspaper to hide his face from cameramen. Another time he took out advertisements disavowing any mob ties.

When the Family Secrets indictment came down two years ago, he vanished, writing the judge letters asking for his own trial before he was apprehended in the suburbs sporting a beard that resembled the one Saddam Hussein grew while hiding in his spider hole. Brought to court for the first time in the case, Lombardo announced he simply had been "unavailable."

On Tuesday, he was at center stage again, telling jurors how he worked the streets as a youngster, shining shoes of police officers in his Grand Avenue neighborhood. They paid him only a nickel a shoe, he said.

"Very cheap people," said Lombardo, sending a wave of laughter through the courtroom.

"Let's not press our luck," shot back Halprin, trying to keep his client focused.

"You told me to tell the truth," countered Lombardo, drawing more laughter.

The guffaws, some from other defense lawyers in the case, brought a stern warning from U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who said he didn't see anything funny about a sweeping conspiracy case that includes the murders of 18 individuals.

Lombardo, one of five men on trial, took the stand as the best way to flesh out his defense that he was essentially an errand boy for powerful mob-connected businessmen such as Irwin Weiner and labor racketeer Allen Dorfman, who ran an insurance agency that did business with the Teamsters. He contended he has always held legitimate jobs and got caught up in criminal conduct through friends.

The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.

Lombardo set about to describe his work history, starting with shoe shining and detouring briefly to his dice game. Lombardo acknowledged he ran one, blessed by city aldermen, from 1976 until the bribery indictment. "I didn't have time to play dice because I was on trial," he said matter of factly.

Lombardo, dressed in a conservative gray jacket and silver tie, sometimes rubbed his hands in front of him as he testified and sometimes played with his glasses. He often gave brief answers in a sing-song tone and looked toward the jury as he talked.

Lombardo said he worked a dumbwaiter at a hotel, drove trucks, built two six-flats in a small construction business and worked at a salvage warehouse.

Through his relationships with Weiner and Dorfman, Lombardo said, he met Outfit figures such as Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio and Anthony Spilotro.

Lombardo testified that Weiner also led him to International Fiberglass, where he worked with Seifert. Prosecutors contend Lombardo had Seifert killed before he could testify against Lombardo in a pension fraud case.

The business was failing when he got there, Lombardo said, telling jurors he agreed to round up out-of-work "kids" in the Grand Avenue area to help make sinks and other company products. He helped Seifert pay bills and manage the business, Lombardo said.

A host of nicknames used for Lombardo have surfaced during the trial, including "Lumpy," "Lumbo" and "Pagliacci," the Italian word for clowns. On Tuesday, Lombardo acknowledged he used another name for himself in some of his business dealings in the 1970s: Joseph Cuneo. "Because my name, Lombardo, was always in the paper for different things," he said.

Halprin tried to take on evidence that prosecutors say points to Lombardo's involvement in Seifert's killing. But Lombardo appeared confused on one critical issue and Halprin moved to another topic.

Lombardo's fingerprint was found on the title application for a car used by the gunmen to flee from the scene of Seifert's shooting at his Bensenville business. In addition, Lombardo was identified as having often bought police scanners like the one found in the getaway vehicle.

Lombardo acknowledged buying police scanners from a local store but said he was running errands for Weiner and his bail-bonding business. But Lombardo said he was puzzled about the fingerprint. Halprin asked how it could have been left on the title document.

"What are my prints on? On what?" he asked. "Is that document in Irv Weiner's office?"

Halprin promised to come back to the subject.

Lombardo also denied that he had attempted to bribe Sen. Cannon. He said he was recorded in Dorfman's office discussing his idea to have the senator buy a Las Vegas property that was being purchased by someone else with a large loan from a Teamsters pension fund. He got nothing out of the deal, Lombardo said, except "15 years and 5 years probation."

Earlier Tuesday, Lombardo's lawyers called a series of witnesses who testified that they saw Lombardo at work at legitimate jobs, including International Fiberglass.

Among those testifying was Johnny Lira, 56, a Golden Gloves boxing champion and a one-time lightweight title contender. Lira said he renewed a relationship with the reputed mobster when Lombardo left prison in the early 1990s. Lombardo worked every day at a business that dealt with concrete-cutting machines, he said.

He described Lombardo as "a grease monkey" who worked on equipment in the business' warehouse on Racine Avenue until his arrest in early 2006. Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk asked whether Lira knew Lombardo was a fugitive in his final months on the job. "He didn't act like a fugitive," Lira said. "He came there every day."

In his testimony, Lombardo tried to portray himself as a normal working guy who liked sports. He can "ice skate, roller skate, Rollerblade and bowl," Lombardo testified.

Prosecutors are likely to go hard after that image during their expected cross-examination on Wednesday, and there will be no chance for "the Clown" to disappear.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Morgan Mint

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