Judge to Lombardo: No deal
Jurist issues warrant after reading purported letter from mob fugitive
By Matt O'Connor
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 4, 2005
A letter purportedly penned by Joey "the Clown" Lombardo says the reputed mob boss would turn himself in if certain conditions were met--an offer swiftly rejected by a federal judge.
The handwritten, four-page letter indicated Lombardo, who has been on the lam since being indicted last month, would surrender if the judge promised he would be released on his own recognizance and prosecuted in a separate trial after the fate of co-defendants had been decided.
"Judge I am in dire strate (sic) at this time at 76 yr old to live my life peaceful until I die," the letter reads.
Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, handed over the original letter and envelope to federal authorities in U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's courtroom. Halprin and an FBI agent familiar with Lombardo's handwriting told the judge they believe the letter is authentic.
The judge said he was satisfied the letter was from Lombardo, then swiftly rejected the conditional offer to surrender.
"The conditions that he sets are ones that I simply cannot guarantee," Zagel said. "So knowing this, he is for all practical purposes a fugitive."
The judge then issued a new warrant for Lombardo's arrest. Lombardo already was the subject of an international manhunt since he and 13 others were indicted last month, half of them in connection with 18 long-unsolved Outfit murders.
Law enforcement officials said the letter appears to confirm their belief since last week that Lombardo is holed up in Chicago.
The letter arrived in Halprin's law office Tuesday with a postmark indicating it had been mailed in Chicago a day earlier, Halprin said.
Court records show that prosecutors had intended to ask the judge to deny bond to Lombardo even before he disappeared last week when agents rounded up suspects.
The unusual correspondence is sure to add to Lombardo's legend.
After a 1981 court appearance, Lombardo walked out with a newspaper in front of his face--with a hole cut out so he could see. He took out advertisements in newspapers to swear off mob ties after being released from prison in 1992.
Of Lombardo's "Clown" moniker, Halprin said: "That's a name he doesn't relish, and neither do I. The guy I know is not a clown."
`Very sincere letter'
"This is a very sincere letter by a guy convicted twice who knows the system and is 76 years old and says these are the circumstances [under which] I think I could get a fair trial," Halprin said. "People can mock it, but they're not in his shoes."
The letter is filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, for which the author apologizes near the end, writing, "English was my worst subject in school."
The letter, addressed to the "Honarable (sic) Judge Zagel," opened with a denial that Lombardo was "hiding to avoid the charges against me."
The letter said Lombardo anticipated that if he were taken into custody, he would be detained without bond.
The letter claimed Lombardo didn't know most of the other defendants and denied he had "received 1 penney (sic)" from any of them. It also denied he had been part of a racketeering enterprise or played any role in gambling operations.
According to the letter, Lombardo "was not privy" to the 18 murders at any time.
The letter then launched into an attack on the criminal justice system.
"There was not a witness, or evidence against me that I intended a crime," the letter said of Lombardo's two convictions after trials. "Well your (sic) going to say that jury herd (sic) the evidence and found me guilty. How many, many, manny (sic) innocent people are there in jail."
The letter recounted two other criminal cases, including the Lori Roscetti murder, in which defendants had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned--only to be cleared years later by DNA testing.
"Thank God for D.N.A.," the letter said.
The letter then fretted about Lombardo's future, noting he would have to live into his 90s to survive a 20-year prison sentence. "Will I live 10 yrs? Will I live 20 yrs?" the letter asked.
The letter criticized medical care in prisons as "a farce." During a prior prison stint, it said, Lombardo suffered chest pains several times and was told to take an aspirin each day.
One month after Lombardo was released from prison, doctors discovered he had an artery 98 percent blocked, and they performed angioplasty that same day, according to the letter.
"So Judge you know what my thinking is, and why I did not answer the indictment," the letter reads. "Judge I want you to know that I am not a violent man in anyway (sic) shape or form."
The letter said Lombardo doesn't possess any firearms and vowed that he would surrender peacefully "if the F.B.I. should find me."
The letter included several postscripts, one noting that federal prosecutors have a staggeringly high conviction rate on criminal cases.
"Like they say they could indict a hamburger for murder & get a conviction," the letter reads.
Seeking a fair trial
The letter also complained that Lombardo doesn't have a chance at a fair trial with the heavy publicity over the indictment and his fugitive status.
"The media made me a 10 headed monster," the letter reads. "How does a (sic) innocent person defend himself?"
The letter ended by setting out his conditions for surrender: a $50,000 recognizance bond and a separate trial from his co-defendants so he could call them as witnesses.
"Then I will turn myself in with my lawyer," the letter reads.
As Halprin was about to hand the original letter up to the judge, Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars interrupted, asking that it first be placed in a plastic envelope for evidentiary purposes. An FBI agent wearing gloves put the letter in the plastic wrapping, Halprin said.
Zagel asked if anyone in the courtroom knew Lombardo's handwriting. Halprin said the letter appeared to be written by his client.
Mars showed the letter to FBI Special Agent Christopher Williams, who is assigned to the organized crime squad. Williams had reviewed documents as part of the mob investigation, said FBI spokeswoman Virginia Wright.
Mars told the judge that Williams agreed that the letter appeared to be in Lombardo's hand.
"It's enough for now," Zagel said. "I'm satisfied that he wrote the letter and he signed the letter."
Halprin said he was relieved that the letter appears to mean that Lombardo is safe. A couple of years ago during the investigation, the FBI had warned Lombardo that it had learned his life was in danger, Halprin said. Lombardo took the threat seriously, he said.
- - -
Transcript of letter
This is an unedited transcript of the letter given to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Honarable Judge Zagel,
I am writing you a letter to let you know that I am not hiding to avoid the charges against me.
#1 I anticipate there will be no bond
#2 I want a seperate trial, which I will not get
#3 Majority of the other defendants I do not know.
4 There is not one defendant in this case that I recieved 1 penney or did I give them 1 penny.
5 I am no part of a enterprise or racketering .
6 Have no part in the poker machines, extorcinate loans, gambling and what ever else the indictment says.
7 About the 18 murders in the indictment, I want you to know that I was not privy before the murders, during the murders, and after the murders, and to this present writing to you.
Judge I went through two trials and was found guilty in both cases I got 15 years + 5 yrs probation, and 14 yrs on the other. There was not a witness, or evidence against me that I intended a crime. Well your going to say that jury herd the evidence and found me guilty. How many, many, manny innocent people are there in jail.
I read in the paper where 3 ladies were rape at 3 different times and all 3 indentified the same person. He was convicted and sent to prison by the jury. Like you will say the jury heard the evidence and found him guilty. Tank God for D.N.A. It freed him.
It's the same with the Rossetti case I read in the paper. One defendant pleaded guilty to rape & murder for a deal for the state 12 years instead of life in prison for his testimony against his 3 or 4 other defendants. They were all convicted and sent to jail for life. Again by a jury who heard the evidence. Thank God for D.N.A. They were all free including the man who confessed for the 12 years. I could go on, and on, and on with cases. How's about the innocent people that where found guilty by a jury and do not have D.N.A. to free them.
Judge I am in dire strate at this time at 76 yr old to live my life peaceful until I die
If I get 10 yrs I will be 86 yrs old, and 20 yrs I will be 96 yrs old. Will I live 10 yrs? Will I live 20 yrs
Medical care in prison is a farce. I went 3 times with chest pain and 3 cardiograms they said I had a enlarged heart take 1 aspirn a day. 1 month later I was released had chest pain went to the hospital took a angiogram and found I had artery 98% blocked. Had angioplasty the same day. Since my release 1993 Ive had 2 or 3 angioplasty and 3 stents put in.
So judge you know what my thinking is, and why I did not answer the indictment. Judge I want you to know that I am not a violent man in anyway shape or form. I do not own or have any weapons of any kind. If the F.B.I. should find me I will come peacefully and no resistence at all.
If you have any ideas or suggestion of what I should do, notify my lawyer he could reach me by the mediaThank you
A Innocent Man
P.S. The govt has 98% convictions.
PSS. Like they say they could indict a hamburger for murder & get a conviction
P.SS Judge with the pre publicity I do not have a chance. The media made me a 10 headed monster. How does a innocent person defend himself?
P.S.S.S. Judge the other reason for a seperate trial is after they go to trial I will have my attorney suppeana them to be wittiness. All of them.
If I go to trial with them they do not have to take the stand.
Excuse the mispelt words and also my grammar. English was my worst subject in school.
1. Give me a $50,000 reconiance bond
2. A seperate trial by myself after the other defendants go to trial
3 Then I will turn myself in with my lawyer
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune