The Grand Avenue Legend Who "Filled Up A Cemetery Or Two"

"I’m like an old-time general. They’d better give me some stars.”
--Giuseppe (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, caught on wiretap

The Clown

He was The Clown, but he was an intelligent clown who read the Wall Street Journal. (FBI agents who knew Joey the Clown Lombardo were amazed by his business and financial acumen.) He also embodied such an extreme paradoxical nature, he almost shouldn't have existed.

“[H]e was no clown; he was a deadly killer,” Bill Roemer, the late FBI Outfit investigator, once wrote.

“I believe he filled up a cemetery or two," Michael Corbitt, the former corrupt police chief, now deceased, who spilled secrets in a best-selling book once said of Lombardo.

Some in law enforcement even found positive feedback to offer. "It’s kind of refreshing to have people like Joey Lombardo out there,” Peter Wacks, a former FBI agent who once helped put Lombardo away said when the mobster lammed it for the family Secrets case. "There aren’t many left from that era, that’s for sure.”

Lumpy, as he was also known, started out with less than nothing, a low-level street guy. In the 1950s he was a jewel thief, a loan collector, a contract killer. But Lombardo really made his name as  a juice collector's juice collector. The hardest cases who owed Outfit higher ups always paid off after Lombardo straightened them out. Or they were gone. Lombardo truly fit New Jersey wiseguy/FBI informant Ron Previte's  label "the general practitioner of crime." Lombardo truly was a general practitioner of crime, with the experience and skills to perform at the highest levels. He grabbed the inside track when he became Joey Doves Aiuppa's driver. Drivers spend lots of time around bosses and tended to become bosses themselves.

His big bump came when he was made capo of the Grand Avenue crew with around 30 soldiers under him.

If New York had one giant crime family instead of five, some quick, general observations are arguable: the men at the top would be better insulated and more powerful. The FBI would have fewer targets: one boss, one underboss, etc., not five of each. Carlo Gambino, after his March 1970 arrest based on information from an informant in an armored car theft ring, reportedly had discussed such a consolidation. For inspiration, Gambino needed to look no further than Chicago.

The Chicago Outfit historically consisted of six crews (though as per a late-1990s Crime Commission report, the Chicago Outfit “streamlined” its operations and consolidated seven “street crews” into three). The crews were spread across the city and suburbs: Elmwood Park, Melrose Park, Chinatown (aka the Twenty-Sixth Street crew), Grand Avenue, Rush Street, and Chicago Heights. Each was overseen by a capo. Crews became murder squads when necessary. (There was The Wild Bunch, a kind of offspring of Murder Inc., for awhile.)

Lombardo joined the big leagues when the Outfit began solidifying its control of Las Vegas. The Big Tuna Tony Accardo himself tapped him to oversee the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund ( otherwise known as the Mafia’s piggy-bank) as well as to manage the Outfit's top men in Sin City, Tony (The Ant) Spilotro and Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal.

Still, Lombardo truly was an original. Despite his rise in the Outfit, he never forgot his roots. No matter what  his role in the hierarchy, he never left his old Grand Avenue neighborhood. He had even coached the little league team there. He chose to remain in a house on Ohio Street, hanging out in his favorite restaurants. He was a joker and a charmer with a legendary sense of humor. He has been likened to a comic book character even. However, it can't be forgotten that an aura of very real violence (and lots and lots of bodies) always seemed to follow him around.

“Allen’s not that type of guy, but the people that got a piece of him are that type of guy. Allen is meek and Allen is harmless. But the people behind him are not meek and harmless. Do you know what I mean?”
-- Lombardo caught on wiretap*

Lombardo should've been tried in the 1970s in a Teamsters pension fund fraud case, but the testimony that would've put him in the cell vanished when Seifert was gunned down by a hit team in 1974. The mob controlled men who controlled making loans from the union’s Central States Pension Fund, and Seifert, whose business was used to launder the money from one of the takes, could've simply blown the whistle if he wanted to. Law enforcement always believed Lombardo was responsible for the murder.

* Lombardo mentioned Dorfman in an attempt to threaten another man's life; Joey the Clown wasn't talking about Dorfman per se.

Lombardo was 75 when finally named in the indictment for the Seifert murder, him and his longtime trusted enforcer, Frank Schweihs. This was based on the words of Nicholas Calabrese, the lynchpin of the Family Secrets case -- and the man who finally did crack the Chicago Outfit wide open like a melon, like Teets and Fifi once nearly did in 1967.

Nicholas Calabrese, who testified against his brother and other mob figures, told the stories that finally put away Lombardo and so many others for murders and robberies going back decades. Calabrese, the government's star witness, had put himself alone in 14 murders in service to the Chicago Syndicate.

"I was loyal because I was afraid," he said during the trial, his voice nearly a whisper. "I was a chicken and a coward because I didn't walk away from it." In the end, Nick flipped because they had him by the DNA. In early 2000, he learned that the FBI had matched his DNA to a bloody glove left at a murder scene. And that was that, as they say. But he attributed some of his motivation to flip, his sudden late-life burst of lawfulness, to fear based on his knowledge of how the Outfit operated. The Outfit had killed too many of its killers, and Nick (and brother Frank, in Nick's words) was the killer who killed many of those killers. Nick knew that the Outfit's default setting was murder, that every witness who was touchable, every weak link in the crime family no matter how important he may have been to the hierarchy itself, if he exposed certain individuals to law enforcement, he was gone --- routinely slaughtered and left in a trunk. An old timer like Accardo never spent a single night in jail for a reason, and it damn well wasn't because he had good luck.

Calabrese claimed that another Outfit killer, John Fecarotta, had once told him in a restaurant that Lombardo had been involved in the 1974 Danny Seifert murder.

Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, when cross-examining Calabrese in his booming voice noted wryly that he couldn't call John Fecarotta to the witness stand and solicit John Fecarotta's recollection of the alleged chat with Nick Calabrese. That's because someone had murdered John Fecarotta, shooting him in the head -- and the someone was Nick Calabrese.

"Did he order pie and coffee when he told you about the murder?" Halprin asked sarcastically.

Maybe Fecarotta did have pie and coffee and maybe he didn't. Assuming the conversation occurred. Another thing Fecarotta supposedly did was piss off  his mob superiors by not having the brains to stay in Phoenix until a job was finished. (He also supposedly had money problems, too.) Calabrese said he was selected to hit Fecarotta because Fecarotta had suspicions that he was a marked man but had always trusted Nick Calabrese. (Fecarotta was misled into thinking he and Calabrese were headed to bomb the office of a dentist who had run afoul of the Outfit, Calabrese said. And this is why mob fiction is superfluous.)

Calabrese's testimony wasn't the only damning evidence evidence linking Lombardo.

In September 1974, Danny Seifert, 29, was readying himself to testify against Lombardo and six  others for robbing $1.4 million from a Teamsters' pension fund and using Seifert's first company to wash it.

Rather than bundling up his family and seeking FBI protection, Seifert, an Outfit associate who planned to testify against seven cohorts, chose to fight. He decided to take the mob on, on their terms, by arming himself and stashing guns all about his home and his company's offices, located in a small suburban office park.

The couple arrived there on a Friday at half past 8 in the morning. They'd brought their 4-year-old son. Emma Seifert began to make coffee in the small kitchen while Danny went back outside to the car to retrieve a vacuum cleaner. Two masked men with rifles burst in on Emma through an interior door, one that led to the shop. “This is a robbery,” one of the men lied. They kept Emma and their son there while outside another team was waiting. Daniel  got the vacuum out of the car and had started to walk back inside when he was hit with a gun and knocked to the ground. A shotgun blast followed. But Danny still got up and started running -- away from his office and toward another building. All escape routes were already blocked off, however. Another shotgun blast, to the knee, knocked him to the ground again. Another shooter walked over to a bleeding crumpled Seifert and stood over him. The man pointed his shotgun at Seifert’s head, the muzzle probably touching the back of Seifert’s left ear. The gunman fired.

Later in Las Vegas, Tony Spilotro spoke to someone about the murder. (He didn't know he was speaking  to a confidential informant).  Spilotro spoke about personally pistol-whipping Seifert before they killed him to stop his testimony. Spilotro also described how an outraged Tony Accardo had expressed anger over how the  hit was carried out, with Seifert 's family there in the premises.

Everybody charged in the pension fund fraud walked.

Thirty years later Mrs. Seifert revealed for the first time that she had recognized the "crouch" of Joseph Lombardo that day in September 1974. She recognized his frame, how he moved. He was one of the men who hustled her and her son into an office, she had testified.

A fingerprint also was eventually found. Not in a work car but on paperwork attached to it. Lombardo's fingerprint.

Lombardo, early mugshot

Decades later in January 2006, The German, after absconding with Lombardo, only going their separate ways, was nabbed and finally brought before the judge. One of Danny Seifert's sons was in the courtroom to observe and spoke to Chicago Tribune reporter John Kass.

"I came to court to see Frank Schweihs, to see what he looked like, just to see him have his day in court. Because I know he's actually a participant in my father's murder ... I wanted to jump over that bench.

"He's crafty," Seifert said. "He portrays two different types of people. Once the judge walked in, he portrayed himself as a broken-down old man, but prior to the judge walking in, he portrayed a tough guy, making comments about the media. It was his demeanor."

"It's something I've never gotten over," Nicholas Seifert said. "Growing up without a father is very rough for any child. Obviously, being in that kind of atmosphere, where everything was good, before the actual indictments, and then all of a sudden, things were going wrong and our so-called Uncle Joe [Lombardo] wasn't our uncle anymore. Then my father ended up getting killed.

"He [Lombardo] would take us to the circus, to ballgames, he was part of our family, he'd come over or we'd go over there for barbecues and stuff," Seifert said.The

Schweihs was "crafty"

"My father wasn't afraid of the Outfit. They were friends. You're really not afraid of your friends, even if it comes to war, or whatever it comes to, my father wasn't afraid of those people, and thought ultimately that he didn't need government protection," Seifert said.

Had his father miscalculated? "Yeah," he said.

As for Lombardo, when he absconded from federal authorities, he never left Chicago.

One evening, Lombardo knocked on the Elmwood Park home of lifelong friend Dominic Calarco, an 85-year-old WWII veteran. Lombardo was bearded and Calarco didn't recognize him until  he spoke.

“I got no place to go,” Joey Lombardo told him. “Can I stay here for a couple of weeks?”

Calarco couldn’t turn his friend away, believing the case against him was none of his business. He told Joey he could stay, though he worked at urging the fugitive to surrender himself. Lombardo was a sick man, Calarco reminded him. He reminded Lombardo that his place was close to the Elmwood Park police station. Joey was reluctant. Some nights Joey would cry because he missed his family. Then a more immediate pain commenced, the pain of an abscessed tooth. Lombardo had spent nine months hiding from the Family Secrets indictment but couldn't escape an abscessed tooth. In January 2006, he quietly made arrangements to see his dentist, Patrick Spilotro, after Spilotro's Park Ridge practice had closed for the night. Lombardo didn't know Spilotro was an FBI tipster hoping to solve the murders of his brothers, Anthony and Michael Spilotro.

 Testifying at the Family Secrets trial, Patrick Spilotro said he told the FBI about a second clandestine appointment with the fugitive to adjust a bridge.

"They knew the exact time" of the visit, he testified in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse,

Lombardo was arrested in Elmwood Park that same day.

During the visit for dental work, Spilotro said he pressed Lombardo again about what had happened to his brothers.

Lombardo, who was in prison when the slayings occurred, had always told him the slayings wouldn't have happened if he had been free, Spilotro said. But this time the answer changed.

"I recall his words very vividly," Spilotro testified. "He said, 'Doc, you get an order, you follow that order. If you don't follow the order, you go too.'"

Lombardo was sentenced to life in federal prison for serving as a leader of Chicago's Outfit, plus the murder of Seifert, a government witness.

Lombardo, then 80, was among five convicted in September 2007 at the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial.

"The worst things you have done are terrible and I see no regret in them," U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said in imposing sentence. He also sentenced Lombardo separately to 168 months for going on the lam for eight months after he was charged.

Lombardo's wisecracking manner vanished and instead, he grumbled that he had been eating breakfast in a pancake house on Sept. 27, 1974, when ski-masked men killed Seifert.

"Now I suppose the court is going to send me to a life in prison for something I did not do," Lombardo said. He said he was sorry for the suffering of the Seifert family but added: "I did not kill Danny Seifert."

Zagel told Lombardo he was "not like the toxic creature I see before me as one of your co-defendants" but added that his crimes were bad enough. Frank Calabrese Sr. was the toxic creature; Zagel had sentenced him to life in prison one week prior.

Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, told jurors during the trial  that Joey Lombardo merely "ran the oldest and most reliable floating craps game on Grand Avenue" but that the longtime Grand Avenue resident was no killer.

See part one: The Enigma of Joey the Clown Lombardo