As he stood addressing a crowded federal courtroom Monday, Joseph Seifert recalled how confused he was almost 35 years ago as he stared out the window of a squad car at his father's lifeless body.
"He was lying twisted in the grass," said Seifert, who was 4 when his father, Daniel, was slain. "I wonder if I ever said goodbye."The testimony was the emotional highlight as Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, one of the Chicago Outfit's most colorful and ruthless characters of the last 40 years, was sentenced to life in prison. A federal jury convicted Lombardo of racketeering conspiracy at the landmark Family Secrets trial in 2007 and found him responsible for the 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert weeks before he was to testify against Lombardo. The charges were dropped against Lombardo after the witness' murder.
Lombardo, now 80 and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit while seated in a wheelchair, had little reaction as prosecutors flashed Seifert family photos on a large screen in U.S. District Judge James Zagel's courtroom.
At times Lombardo leaned on the defense table with a grimace, as if he were having difficulty hearing the proceedings. But he quickly dispelled any notion he wasn't lucid when his lawyer told the judge that Lombardo had been incarcerated beginning in December 1983 for his conviction in a massive casino skimming case and the bribery of a U.S. senator. "'82," Lombardo corrected him loudly.
In a gravelly voice, Lombardo flatly denied being part of the masked hit team that ambushed Seifert at his plastics company in Bensenville, gunning him down as his son and wife Emma looked on in horror. "I'm sorry for their loss then; I'm sorry for their loss now," Lombardo said.
He marks the second mob boss since last week to be sentenced to life in prison. Frank Calabrese Sr. was convicted at the Family Secrets trial in connection with seven Outfit slayings.
The government, Lombardo said, hadn't put on a speck of evidence to prove he was involved in organized crime after he had served his time for the skimming and bribery conviction.
He had been released a decade later and lived quietly in Chicago until his arrest in the Family Secrets case, Lombardo said. After he was indicted in 2005 in the Family Secrets probe, Lombardo hid out for nearly nine months before the FBI captured him in a Chicago suburb.
"Now I suppose the court is going to sentence me to life in prison for something I didn't do," he complained.
Lombardo said he had an alibi, showing the judge paperwork that said he was at a police station reporting a stolen wallet at the time of Seifert's murder.
"It's right here," he said, shaking the document over his head.
Lombardo reported the theft at a police district led by William Hanhardt, who went on to become chief of detectives and was convicted of running a jewelry-heist ring connected to the Outfit.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk urged Zagel to impose the maximum available sentence, saying Lombardo had a "certain callousness about these affairs" that didn't just come with the fact he is an old man who is comfortable in his own skin.
"Mr. Lombardo is ... an Outfit boss with no remorse," Funk said of Lombardo, described by authorities as the longtime capo of the Grand Avenue street crew.
Seifert's two sons and widow testified at the hearing, and prosecutors played a collection of home movies set to the Beatles' "In My Life."
Another Seifert son, Nicholas, described troubled years after his father was killed and said his marriage dissolved in the stress of the 2007 trial.
Emma Seifert stood at the lectern in a black dress, recalling the terror that the slaying caused her family.
She said she could not find the words to explain what had happened to son Joseph, who had been named after Lombardo and witnessed the attack. She said she struggled to preserve Joseph's innocence when he hugged her at his father's funeral and announced: "Don't cry, Mommy. I don't think those men meant to hurt my daddy."
Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, raised a question of double jeopardy, saying his client had done time for loan-sharking, extortion and other wrongdoing that was a part of the Family Secrets prosecution. Halprin said there was no evidence to back up Emma Seifert's belief that Lombardo was one of the masked men who killed her husband.
Zagel was unmoved by Lombardo's claims of innocence.
The judge said the wisecracking mobster had done terrible things in his life and shown no regret, though he had displayed "some ability to charm people."
In the end, it's about our actions, Zagel said, "not about our wits and our smiles."