Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, who rose to the top ranks of the Chicago Outfit and died in prison as a result of a murder conspiracy conviction, consistently maintained his innocence. A federal jury in 2007, however, ruled otherwise.
Lombardo died at the age of 90 on Oct. 19.
In a series of seven never-before-seen letters beginning on October 2007 and ending in 2008, Lombardo wrote to NBC 5's Carol Marin of his frustration with the trial and what he saw as the unfairness of the guilty verdict and his association with the Chicago mob.
"Dear Carol Marin" began the first letter dated October 15, 2007. It was in response to a written request for an interview while he was locked up at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
In one letter he replied: "You have the greatest story in the world in front of you, a [sic] innocent man found guilty."
Lombardo was called "The Clown" but law enforcement said there was nothing funny about the mobster who also did time for casino skimming and the attempted bribery of a congressman.
In April 2005, Lombardo was indicted, along with 13 others, in Operation Family Secrets, and charged with 18 old mob killings, including that of Danny Seifert, who was going to testify against Lombardo in a union pension case.
Lombardo noted he was at a police station at the time.
"Now Carol how could I be at a police station and at the scene of the murder of Dan Seifert Sept. 27, 1974," he wrote.
But the jury found him guilty for his role in Seifert’s murder and sentenced Lombardo to life in prison.
The Clown complained in his handwritten note:
"Do you think the trial was fair?"
"Why don’t you and the rest of the news media write about all the in justice [sic] that is done in that building at 219 S. Dearborn."
Every letter carried a personal touch. "Good health," he wished.
"Happy Holidays." And "We have a mutual friend Wallace Davis."
"He was very generous, Carol. That’s the Joey 'The Clown' Lombardo I know," Davis said in an interview at his West Side Chicago home.
Convicted of bribery and extortion, the former alderman said Lombardo was a frequent guest at his one-time restaurant, Wallace’s Catfish Corner, dining on ribs and oxtail soup.
He described Lombardo as a gentle guy with laser eyes. According to Davis, Lombardo was at the restaurant when he saw on TV that he was charged in the Family Secrets case.
"Breaking news: Joey 'The Clown' Lombardo has just been indicted in the Family Secrets for murder," Davis said, recounting that day.
"If you see Wallace say hello for me," Lombardo wrote. "I wish I had some of his ribs. Yum yum!"
But it was another restaurant -- The Sicily on North Harlem -- that provided the public an incredible image of Lombardo and the hierarchy of the Chicago Outfit.
A photo, discovered in the early 1980s, shows Tony Accardo and Joey Auippa with other top leaders sitting at a table. Lombardo, the last survivor in the photo, was standing in the rear.
"I was seen in a picture in a public rest [sic],” he wrote, "with 9 people and I was the 10th person but there was [sic] only 9 chairs. Does that mean I was part of the luncheon?"
As for our interview, it never happened, due to Lombardo’s demand.
"I would be unwilling to have the interview edited."
But then added: "If I was to be interview [sic] I would have Walter Jacobson do it. When I see him in restaurants we say hello to each other."
Jacobson said by phone he remembers seeing and talking to Lombardo at a North Side Italian restaurant but did not interview him.
"The odds are against me," Lombardo wrote in the final of his seven letters.
"I will close and say good health and good luck to you and family."
And ended as he always did:
"A [sic] Innocent Man. Joseph Lombardo."
It was a declaration roundly rejected by a federal jury.