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.
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.