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Fugitives vanished long before mob charges, FBI says

By Antonio Olivo
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 17, 2005

 
Nearly three months after it started, an international hunt is still on for Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Frank "the German" Schweihs, reputed members of the Chicago Outfit mob, whereabouts now unknown.

As it turns out, the two had given the FBI the slip long before federal prosecutors delivered sweeping indictments against them and 14 others accused in 18 Outfit-related murders dating to 1970, an official said Saturday.

For "a significant time" before the April 25 indictments, Lombardo and Schweihs had disappeared, apparently in anticipation of being arrested, FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said. Federal prosecutors charged the two with the 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert, a Bensenville businessman scheduled to testify against Lombardo and others in a Teamsters pension fund fraud case. Schweihs also was charged with joining co-defendant Paul Schiro in a 1986 gangland murder in Phoenix.

"Although they didn't know exactly when the indictments were coming, we feel they were preparing for some time" to become fugitives, Bochte said.

So how did Lombardo, 76, of Chicago and Schweihs, 75, who last lived near Ft. Lauderdale, suddenly vanish ahead of one of the federal government's biggest mob cases ever?

"They weren't being watched at the time the indictments were announced," Bochte said.

The reason is common to all FBI cases involving multiple suspects, Bochte said. As prosecutors are preparing indictments, agents are reluctant to keep close tabs on their targets for fear of tipping off someone that arrests are coming, Bochte said. "The fallout from that is that we take a chance that some of the individuals wouldn't be where we thought they might be, and that turned out to be the case with Lombardo and Schweihs," Bochte said. "Still, getting 14 out of 16, we feel that to be a successful sweep to have so many individuals taken into custody at the same time."

Until their disappearance, the two men were still involved in "racketeering activities," Bochte said, adding that he couldn't recall specific charges related to those crimes.

Lombardo liked to get up at 5 a.m. and head to his Racine Avenue garage, where he would "be sharpening or working on industrial tools," his attorney Rick Halprin said Saturday.

Halprin, who has called the indictment against his client "sketchy," added that he doesn't know where Lombardo is and said he was not aware of allegations of recent illegal activities. An attorney for Schweihs could not be reached for comment.

In May, Halprin delivered a four-page letter to a federal judge purportedly written by Lombardo that said he would surrender if he would be released on his own recognizance and prosecuted in a separate trial after the fate of his co-defendants had been decided. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel promptly rejected the offer.

"Judge, I am in dire strate [sic] at this time at 76 yr old to live my life peaceful until I die," the letter read.

Lombardo's and Schweihs' ages make the FBI confident the two will soon turn up, Bochte said. Finding them is a "primary duty" of the agency's 17-member squad devoted to traditional organized crime, he said.

Without "any firm ideas where they might be right now," the agency is offering up to $20,000 apiece for information leading to their arrests.

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aolivo@tribune.com

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