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FBI gets last laugh on 'The Clown'

January 15, 2006

BY

NATASHA KORECKI AND MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporters


He put on considerable weight, grew a full white beard, let his hair grow long and likely never left the Chicago area.

Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, a fugitive for nine months, looked more like Saddam Hussein than a reputed mob boss when FBI agents found him.

But it wasn't just Lombardo's change in appearance that kept him hidden in the feds' own backyard.

Lombardo, 77, moved around the Chicago area often and likely used underworld connections to hide in so-called mob "spider holes" before he was arrested in Elmwood Park, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant said Saturday.

The Bright One: Reputed gangster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo uses the paper to hide his face as he leaves court on March 11, 1981.
(PERRY C. RIDDLE/SUN-TIMES)

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Feds nab 'Joey The Clown'
To hide his appearance, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo grew a full beard and longer hair. The 77-year-old reputed mob boss managed to skirt the feds for nine months in the Chicago area by continually moving from one so-called mob “spider hole” to the next, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant said Saturday.

Lombardo told his prominent lawyer Rick Halprin he usually got around on foot.

But the end of his run came Friday the 13th.

Lombardo was in the passenger seat of a 1994 silver Lincoln beside an elderly friend in an alley behind the friend's Elmwood Park home. About a dozen FBI agents descended on the two men as agents' cars blocked off the alley from all directions.

"Both gentlemen were stunned," Grant said.

The FBI has been keeping known Lombardo associates under surveillance for the last nine months, Grant said. They began watching the man in Elmwood Park hoping to catch him with Lombardo -- and they did, he said.

Lombardo was carrying $3,000 cash, his attorney said. The feds said they also found business cards -- they wouldn't say whose -- and a suitcase stuffed with clothes. Lombardo was unarmed.

Lombardo also carried his own driver's license, which listed him at his old Ohio Street address, Grant said.

The FBI did not arrest the other man, who is in his mid-80s and lives in the 2300 block of North 74th Avenue.

Lombardo didn't resist arrest, but he wasn't compliant, either -- refusing to exit the car at first, Grant said. Agents had to walk up to the car, open the door and ask him to get out. Then he did.

Who helped him?

Grant said there are two schools of thought on fugitive lifestyles. One is to keep a distance from known associates. The other is to stick with people you trust.

Lombardo took the second approach, Grant said.

"Without a doubt, I think people assisted Mr. Lombardo in his efforts," Grant said. The investigation continues into who may have been "aiding and abetting" him, he said.

The FBI has long believed Lombardo didn't stray far. In his time on the lam, he wrote letters to his attorney, and they carried local postmarks.

Lombardo was one of 14 people charged in a sweeping mob indictment last year, a result of the federal Operation Family Secrets investigation. Two of the charged have since died.

The massive indictment ties 18 previously unsolved murders to the Chicago Outfit. But Lombardo and Frank "The German" Schweihs both fled before the government announced its charges April 25, 2005. Schweihs was found last month in Kentucky.

Lombardo's capture brings closure to questions that arose over how both managed to escape arrest last April, particularly Lombardo, who is considered the big fish in the case.

Grant said Saturday the two knew the indictment was coming for some time. Lombardo had already been swabbed for DNA in 2003. The two prepared for their departure and left well before the charges were unsealed.

In a superseding indictment, Lombardo was specifically tied to the 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert in Bensenville. Seifert was preparing to testify against Lombardo and others in a pension fraud case when he was gunned down.

One reputed mob associate who has been following the news about Lombardo said Saturday that it's the end of an era with his arrest.

"All of the old war horses are either dead or in jail or are pretty well close to being dead," said the man, who did not want to be identified. "In my opinion, organized crime is done."

But Grant said anyone who believes that thinking is mistaken.

Gets medication

Halprin met with Lombardo for several hours early Saturday.He said Lombardo gained "considerable weight" since going into hiding.

Lombardo was moved Saturday from the Chicago Police lockup at 17th and State into the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center. The delay in getting Lombardo into a federal lockup was likely due to complications getting Lombardo into a segregated unit, Halprin said.

Halprin said Lombardo, who has heart problems and other health issues, was given his medication while in custody Saturday, raising questions as to whether he was taking the same medicine for the last nine months, and if so, how he got it. Halprin didn't specify the type of medication.

Lombardo was very talkative, Halprin said. He joked with him and was in good spirits. Halprin said Lombardo didn't consider himself a fugitive and always expected to go to trial.

He is expected to appear in court Tuesday. Halprin said he won't bother to ask for a bond hearing.

"His chances of getting out are about the same as Pat Robertson conducting a gay marriage," Halprin joked.

The area where Lombardo was found is one street over from the Elmwood Park police station. Neighbors couldn't believe Lombardo was hiding in their community.

Guillermo Rocha, who lives near where Lombardo was arrested, wondered if he and the reputed mob boss ever crossed paths. "If I saw him, I never knew it was him," he said.

"Elmwood Park is notorious for mob activity, but I never thought he'd be so close," said Kathy Kukovec, another neighbor. "I didn't think he'd be that stupid."

There was a $20,000 reward offered for Lombardo's arrest. But Grant said it was good-old-fashioned agent work that helped nab the fugitive after continuing to watch Lombardo's known associates for nine months.

"I wouldn't say we were lucky last night," Grant said in lauding his organized-crime team who tracked down Lombardo. "I would say we were good."

nkorecki@suntimes.com

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