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'The Clown' wasn't fooling around

July 17, 2005

BY NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter

Two FBI agents trailing reputed mobster Joey "the Clown" Lombardo spoke publicly for the first time last week, and they wanted to put some rumors to rest.

Among them, Lombardo didn't skip town moments or even days before federal agents showed up at his door with an arrest warrant, they said.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, FBI Supervisory Special Agent John Mallul and Michael Maseth, the lead FBI agent in the sweeping federal mob indictment known as Operation Family Secrets, said Lombardo and alleged hit man Frank "the German" Schweihs had fled well before an indictment was unsealed April 25.

Lombardo, 76, of the Near West Side, and Schweihs, 75, of Dania, Fla., prepared for life on the lam, the agents said. The FBI believes the two are hiding separately. Before they fled, each set up a plan of where to hide, and their cat-and-mouse game has likely succeeded this long because other people are helping them out financially, the agents said.

 

HAVE YOU SEEN THESE MEN?

The FBI's "wanted" notices include this information:

 

JOSEPH LOMBARDO


Aliases: Joey the Clown, Lumpy, Joe Cuneo, Joe Padula
Date of birth used: Jan. 1, 1929
Height: 5 feet 7 inches
Weight: 185 pounds
Occupation: Unknown
Scars and marks: Lombardo usually wears glasses
Should be considered armed and dangerous and an escape risk
FRANCIS JOHN SCHWEIHS

Aliases: Frank Schweihs, the German
Dates of birth used: Feb. 7, 1930, Feb. 7, 1932
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 180 pounds
Occupation: Retired
Remarks: Wears fishing-type floppy hats
Scars and marks: Slight limp
Should be considered armed and dangerous

 

Mallul, who heads Chicago's Organized Crime Unit, bristled at reports that Lombardo and Schweihs got away because no one was watching, saying the reputed mobsters knew for more than a year an indictment was coming and made plans accordingly. The feds swabbed Lombardo for DNA in 2003. Mallul said the FBI did everything it could to keep track of them while not tipping anyone off.

Not 'a surprise to the FBI'

"We anticipated a problem with Joey Lombardo and Frank Schweihs. ... This did not come as a surprise to the FBI," Mallul said.

Schweihs and Lombardo are accused of the 1974 murder of federal witness Daniel R. Seifert in Bensenville. They, and 11 other suspects, are named in the indictment that charged the Chicago Outfit itself as a racketeering enterprise and charged alleged mobsters with 18 gangland slayings.

Since April, the FBI has followed hundreds of tips, including false sightings, that have taken them into many states and even outside the country. In June, the FBI put out a $20,000 reward for tips leading to their arrests.

Neither Mallul nor Maseth would say when they believe the two fled.

Lombardo's attorney said he believes Lombardo was in town at least a month before the indictment was unsealed.

But the feds noted that the time leading up to the arrests was delicate. Any overt questioning about why Lombardo, for instance, was out of pocket, could tip off others.

Could convict a 'hamburger'

"The mob is an organization. If you do one thing strange with one guy ... they could all scatter," Maseth said. "The actions you take against one defendant can bleed over with all the other ones."

Lombardo has emerged an elusive and fascinating criminal to some because of his antics. He grins wide for his mug shots and, in one infamous photo, walks through the federal courts building downtown with a copy of the Sun-Times over his face, peering out of two holes punched in the paper.

There are other antics. After he did jail time some years ago, he took out a newspaper ad distancing himself from the mob. And recently, he wrote U.S. District Judge James Zagel a letter saying prosecutors could convict "a hamburger" in the federal courts building. He wanted to turn himself in on several conditions, including that he be tried separately from others.

Rick Halprin, Lombardo's attorney, said from that letter he thinks Lombardo might come out of hiding once others have gone to trial.

"I have no idea where he is. I just hope he's safe," Halprin said.

Mallul is confident they'll be caught in a matter of time, but their time on the lam is clearly irritating authorities. The two managed to hide this long in part because of their age. They don't stand out, Mallul said. But Mallul added that both are savvy and aren't the type to make easy slip-ups such as leaving credit card or phone records.

"These individuals are way beyond that," Mallul said. "They have a long history of being much smarter than that."

Mallul said life in hiding might suit Schweihs' personality better than Lombardo's.

Schweihs is known to be quieter, with a reputation of being tight-lipped.

"There's less known about him. He talked to fewer people over the years," Mallul said of Schweihs.

'Eventually he's going to be seen'

Both were dangerous in their heyday, Mallul said, and both were still involved in "racketeering activities" even up until the time of their disappearances, he said.

Lombardo probably hates life as a recluse, the agents said.

Halprin said the man he has known for the past six years is missing his daughter and son right now.

"That kind of life is hard on anybody. The thing he would miss the most is getting up at 5 a.m. -- before everyone else -- and going to work," Halprin said.

Lombardo has a blue-collar mentality. He likes to work with his hands: do construction or fix furniture and cars with his son, Halprin said.

Lombardo is the kind of guy who flirts with waitresses and strikes up a conversation with strangers. He's not a huge eater but loves his steaks and pasta and religiously chomps on his trademark cigars.

That "flash" and need for attention could eventually be Lombardo's undoing, Mallul said.

"Some people can do that. I don't think Joey Lombardo is that person," Mallul said of a life in hiding. "He does in fact relish his family, his notoriety. That's always been part of his life, being an Outfit guy.

"He may have done it for the last three months. But he's not going to stay in a room for the rest of his life, or an apartment. Eventually he's going to be seen and made by somebody."

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