Joey The Clown Lombardo Proclaims Innocence And Condemns Supermax Conditions In Letter

Joey (the Clown) Lombardo, the wisecracking jokester who was among the Chicago Outfit’s most colorful, and deadly, figures, asserts his innocence and decries repressive prison conditions in a letter written in his supermax cell in Florence, Colo.

Joey the Clown Lombardo
Joey the Clown Lombardo

In the letter, which was released this week, Lombardo, nearly 90, writes that his body and memory are both failing. (He’s withstood treatment for throat cancer and has had his gall bladder removed and stents put in.)

Sentenced to life in prison about a decade ago when he was convicted in the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial, Lombardo once again claims he was wrongfully convicted and asks U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo to appoint him a new lawyer.

In the letter, reportedly his first public correspondence since his sentencing in 2009, he notes: “My mind comes and goes. All my teeth are out and waiting for the prison to give me false teeth … over 3 months no false teeth. Had 4 polips (sic) removed, kidneys are going, I take 13 pills a day.”

“In dire need for a lawyer to prove my innocents (sic),” Lombardo wrote.

On top of everything else, Lombardo was transported from North Carolina to the most restrictive supermax in the country sometime in the past five years. The BOP inmate locator site confirms he's currently in Colorado. A 2014 Chicago Tribune report noted he was in Butner, N.C., and had been placed under severe restrictions in April 2013. The U.S. AG requested the measures with little explanation, according to a court filing at the time by David Jay Bernstein, Lombardo’s Florida-based lawyer.

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The filing quoted from the AG's request to put Lombardo under restriction:

"Based upon information provided to me of Lombardo’s proclivity for violence, I find that there is substantial risk that his communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury ...”

Lombardo was  a model inmate, Bernstein noted, adding that Lombardo,  then 84, had been generally confined to a wheelchair since 2009 and was in frail physical condition.

“Was this ‘information a report from the FBI? CIA? NSA? An anonymous phone call? A 30-year-old story from the Chicago Tribune saying that (Lombardo) was a ‘bad guy?’” Bernstein wrote in the court filing.

"The defendant cites no authority whatsoever for the relief he seeks from the Court," prosecutors said.

“With all due respect to the Attorney General, his proffer, ostensibly justifying the imposition of these draconian conditions against an 84-year-old, chronically ill, wheelchair-user can only be an attempt to appear ‘tough on crime’ by engaging in ‘elder abuse’ against a man who once had a reputation (deserved or not) as a major player in the Chicago ‘Mob,’” Bernstein wrote. “Whatever he once was, Joseph Lombardo, Sr. is now a sick, 84-year-old man and the SAMs dictated policy of virtually complete isolation constitutes extra-judicial punishment and administrative overreach.”

A federal jury convicted Lombardo of racketeering conspiracy at the Family Secrets trial in 2007 and found him responsible for 10 gangland slayings going back decades, including the infamous 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert weeks before he was to testify against Lombardo in a separate case. The charges against Lombardo at the time were dropped after Seifert’s murder.

At his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge James Zagel, Lombardo flatly denied being part of the hit team that ambushed Seifert at his Bensenville plastics company and gunned him down while his son and wife watched.

"I'm sorry for their loss then; I'm sorry for their loss now," Lombardo said in a gravelly voice.

Lombardo went on to lose a flurry of appeals. He is residing at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., where he claims he’s on near-constant lockdown and is denied nearly all contact with the outside world, including his family and attorneys.

“Only one phone call a month to immediate family only and one letter a week, again (to) only one immediate family member only,” he wrote.

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known as the ADX, is the highest-security prison in the country. It was designed to be escape-proof and is informally known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies, where the worst, most unredeemable class of criminals is incarcerated. Ted Kaczynski and the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph are there as are 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef, the Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; former Bonanno boss Vincent Basciano, and Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients and is serving three consecutive life sentences.

Inmates at the ADX spend approximately 23 hours of each day in solitary confinement.

Lombardo rose through the ranks of the Outfit in the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, his comedic stunts reportedly got as much attention in the newspapers as his crimes. There was the time he walked in public holding a newspaper pressed to his face, with holes cut for the eyes. In 1992, he took out newspaper advertisements to swear off any and all ties to the mob after he was released from prison that year.