Lawyers, Guns & Money

Prosecutor Tom Longo was close to the mob -- much too close.

Tom Longo
In this wooded swatch of north Solon, where the road falls fast and the long, low ranch houses hide among the trees, no one has seen the prosecutor in months. The families on Cannon Road don't know where their jolly, longtime neighbor is.

They just know he's gone.

There used to be poolside barbecues, crowded family dinners, yardwork, and horseplay by the ponds. Now the place looks lifeless. A gray, January freeze hangs in the air, and everything is still: the trees, the frozen pond, the Italian and American flags hanging proudly from his three-car garage.

With a knock, the house comes alive. But only barely -- and briefly. The door opens, just enough for eye contact. A woman pushes her face into the cold.

It's a sweet face, motherly in every way. But it looks tugged on, weighed down by a son's conviction, a neighbor's accusations, a husband's disappearance.

She doesn't know where he is, she says. And she's tired of being asked.

"There's no story here," she mutters, and gently shuts the door.

The day things fell apart, the woman at the door was across the country at a wedding. Her husband was home alone. It was a sun-broiled Saturday in July 2004. Always up for a party, Tom Longo made plans with his next-door neighbor. Both men were retired. Their families had been friends since the early 1970s, when Longo, then a recent Cleveland State law grad, moved his family in next door. (Longo's neighbors spoke with Scene on the condition that they wouldn't be named.)

Over the years, their kids played together, scooting back and forth between the two ponds that separate their homes. The parents traveled together, dined together, drank together. The dads shared the secrets of their hobbies -- pickle-making, wine-making, and gardening.

That afternoon, Longo invited the neighbor and his 30-year-old daughter over. The sun poured onto Longo's backyard deck as the three drank, jarred pickles, and talked. As evening arrived, the neighbor went home. His daughter, a pretty, curvaceous woman with wavy red hair, stayed poolside with Longo. She drank from a pitcher of margaritas. He sipped booze from an insulated cup, the big kind you get at gas stations. They ordered pizza.

As the sun fell, they moved into the house. Eventually, the woman went home.

Not long after, her mom called the police.

A cop showed up around 11 p.m., and the daughter told him a story: Sometime after pizza, Longo pulled out a plastic baggie of "blue blues," she said. Longo got them in Mexico, he told her. They're like Valium. Want one?

She gulped one down.

Only then did Longo 'fess up, she said. The pill was actually Rohypnol -- a roofie, a date-rape drug. She started to feel heavy, dizzy. They moved into the house. Friends stopped by, but left quickly, leaving her and Longo alone again.

And that's when it happened, she said: "Longo sat down beside her and suggested she lay down on the couch . . ." a Solon police report reads. "The next thing she knows, he leaned over and started kissing her. He also put his hand down her shirt touching her breast . . . She told him to stop but he continued down toward her pants. . . . He had her pinned to the couch using his body weight so she couldn't get up. She started to cry and Mr. Longo told her to relax and maybe a massage would help. . . . She was finally able to get away after becoming hysterical and ran home."

She looked drunk, definitely out of it, the officer wrote in his report. He told her to get blood tests, to see if there were drugs in her system. She said she would. And she would give a formal statement later, when she was feeling better.

The drug tests came back a week later: negative. Over time, the woman's story would change, and new witnesses would come forward, throwing stones at her tale.

But for Longo, it was too late. Two days after his neighbors called the cops, detectives showed up with a search warrant, looking for the pills. When they found two large safes in the basement, they asked Longo to open them. He refused. He said he didn't know whose they were. Didn't even know how they got there.

The cops took the safes to the station. It took a few days, but eventually, the guys from the fire department came to break them open. And though the cops didn't find what they were looking for, the safe's contents appeared to answer questions about Longo. Questions people had been asking for years. Questions Tom Longo really didn't want to answer.

Eight years before, in 1996, finding Tom Longo at the pool was not nearly as common as finding Tom Longo at the office.

In his two-plus decades as an attorney, Longo built a thriving general practice, anchored by his reputation for being tough and cunning, no matter whose side he was on.

Friends say that as a personal-injury lawyer, Longo earned a bundle -- perhaps more than $1 million -- when he sued a power company on behalf of an electrocuted worker.

He also had a burgeoning career in public service. In 1977, when he was 33, Longo took a part-time job as the assistant law director and prosecutor for the community of Bedford. He later took on extra prosecutor gigs in Solon, Highland Hills, Warrensville Heights, and Chagrin Falls. And in every city he worked, he earned respect by going hard after bad guys.

Through it all, Longo was a defender of thugs. In the '70s, after starting his career as a federal public defender, Longo shared an office with Elmer Giuliani, the famed lawyer who represented organized crime powers like Anthony Liberatore and Danny Greene.

Longo himself defended murderers, mafia drug runners, kiddie-porn distributors, and the rest. He later would open his own office on Chagrin Boulevard. But in the early years, Longo commonly joined other battle-tested defense lawyers -- guys who earned their chops during the mafia wars of the '70s -- at downtown's Theatrical Grill, where they licked their wounds over bourbon and Winstons.

Over the years, Longo didn't just defend criminals; he also befriended them. He was close to his cousin, Chuck Sinito, a convicted money launderer and the brother of mafia leader Tom Sinito. He also was good friends with alleged mafioso Sam Vecchio.

Then there was Skip Williams. Longo defended Williams in the mid-1980s, when Williams was convicted for his role in a mafia-financed cocaine-and-marijuana ring. When he emerged from prison in 1989, he and Longo went into business together. They opened the Wizard's Inn, a bar in Richmond Heights, and invested in other property. Friends of the Longos came to know Williams as "Uncle Skip."

It was a relationship bound for trouble. "You could see that was a train wreck," says Bill Summers, Longo's friend and former lawyer.

Williams was, according to police and court records, fully entrenched in the mob's lucrative business of importing coke and weed to the streets of Cleveland. And after he got out of the joint in 1989, he didn't stop.

In March 1996, Williams and a friend, Bill Cope, arranged to buy 1,000 pounds of pot from a dealer near Buffalo. They hitched a trailer to Cope's Dodge pickup and drove to Cheektowga, New York. At a Holiday Inn, Williams strip-searched the dealers to make sure they weren't cops. Cope then drove with one dealer to pick up the load, while Williams stayed behind to make the down payment: $146,000.

As Cope was loading the pot and Williams was counting out the cash, there was a knock at the hotel door. It was the DEA.

Williams' instinct to strip-search the guy was right; he just didn't find the carefully hidden bug. He'd been set up by a friend from prison -- and now was surely headed back there himself. He wasn't going alone.

A month later, Williams was out on bail when he showed up at Longo's office on Chagrin. But he wasn't looking for representation.

"What do you want to yell at me for?" Williams asked.

"For not having the normal street sense to know what's going on," Longo said.

Williams knew he was in for a dressing-down, because this time it wasn't just his ass on the line.

A year before, the Wizard's Inn had burned down. Investigators suspected arson, but they never could nail down who torched the place. So in January 1996, $130,000 in insurance money was deposited in the partners' bank account, according to the feds.

A month later, Longo's legal secretary cut two $65,000 checks, one for each partner. The two men flew to Atlantic City, checked into Caesar's, and deposited the money. They took out the cash the next day and headed back to Cleveland, each with $65,000.

But the next month, Williams showed up at the law office to pick up Longo's cut. Williams now had a total of $130,000 -- almost enough for the down payment on the pot. A few days later, he and Cope left for New York, to meet up with Williams' old buddy from prison.

"I told you, don't do this with this guy," Longo said.

"We had a deal, OK?" Williams fired back. "If you had felt that strong, you wouldn't give me the money. I mean, you're just as greedy as I am."

Longo knew the insurance company's deposit, the withdrawal in Atlantic City, and his longtime relationship with Williams spelled trouble. He peppered him with questions about what the feds knew. "Do they mention . . . my name?" Longo asked. "Whose name do they mention?"

But Williams seemed more worried about himself -- about paying back the money, about going back to prison. And about surviving. The feds believe they were planning to sell the pot to seasoned drug dealers -- including Sam Vecchio, the alleged mafioso. (Vecchio, who the feds say invested $8,000 in the Buffalo deal, would later be convicted in a separate money-laundering and weapons case.)

"I have dreams that my doorbell rings, and . . . I open the door and one of Sam's nutty kids like Jimmy's there, OK," Williams told Longo, referring to Vecchio's son James. "Ready to blow my brains out."

"Think about taking a bus ticket?" Longo asked him.

"Yeah, but Tom, where would I go? . . . It's just a different form of incarceration."

"What about the Unabomber?" Longo asked. "I mean, look at how long he . . ."

They talked briefly about getting fucked up together; Longo had a soft spot for booze and blow, and had been known to go on multiday benders, court records show. But they decided against it. "I wanna get fucked up so bad," Longo said, "but you know I . . ."

"So do I," Williams said, "but I can't." His wife was pissed about the arrest. "When this is all over, you'll still be on Chagrin Boulevard, and I'll be somewhere else."

"Hopefully," Longo said. "Hopefully, I'll be on Chagrin Boulevard."

Eventually, they said goodbye, and Williams left -- to take off the transmitter hidden beneath his clothes, and to tell the feds what they wanted to hear about his friend Tom Longo.

If Longo was nervous about his future, fear didn't trump his ambition. A year after the Buffalo deal went south, he declared himself a candidate for judge in Bedford. With a stockpile of well-to-do friends from every corner of law enforcement and government, he had a shot.

But the company he kept made the feds even more suspicious. Not only did he run with known wise guys, but his list of campaign contributors looked like an Evite to a crime-family picnic.

Salvatore Scalish, nephew of former mob boss John Scalish, kicked in. Edward Flask, a convicted felon and associate of Carmen Policy, the Youngstown mob lawyer turned NFL executive, wrote a check too. So did relatives of Sinito, Vecchio, and former Cleveland mafia boss Angelo Lonardo.

Friends insist the largesse was merely the fruit of Longo's tireless work as a defense lawyer. "Did I think he was a mafia wannabe? Hell, no," says Summers. "Absolutely not. He wanted to be a husband, a lawyer, and a father."

But the connections made Skip Williams' story -- and his taped chat with Longo -- all the more believable. With a felony drug conviction already on his record, Williams was facing serious time. If he could deliver a public official to prosecutors in Buffalo, he'd spare himself time in the joint.

Longo's role in the 1,000-pound marijuana buy wasn't a one-time affair, Williams told them. The prosecutor had been investing in mafia-financed cocaine deals since the 1980s. Couriers would buy 7 to 10 kilos from Florida suppliers, then transport them back to Cleveland to be distributed by the mob, Williams said.

According to Williams, Longo also had a stake in the major coke-and-weed ring that, when busted by the feds in 1986, took down several reputed mafiosi, including Carmen Zagaria, Lonardo, and Tom Sinito. It was the same case that landed Williams in prison -- the case Longo worked as a defense lawyer.

And Longo dealt in more than drugs, Williams alleged. He told the feds that they also bought two MAC semiautomatics and three custom-made silencers from a weapons dealer, then sold the two guns and two of the silencers to Vecchio. Longo kept the third silencer for himself, Williams said.

By that time, court records show, Vecchio had been caught trying to sell MACs and silencers to an undercover agent in Cleveland, making Williams' tale more believable.

Longo never talked to the feds. But his lawyers claimed he was set up by Williams, who used his knowledge of Cleveland's underworld and Longo's family ties to sell out his friend. Did he give him the money? Sure. But how was he to know Williams would use it for dope?

"I will go to my grave believing that's . . . typical Tom, thinking he's doing a favor for someone," Summers says. "It's so bizarre to think that he would be involved. He had made money, he had a good investment strategy. He had a lovely home, a lovely family. Some people like to act out. Some people like to walk the line. None of that's Tom Longo."

But it was hard to deny what was said on the tapes, and the feds found Williams' tales credible. So in September 1997, two months before the election in Bedford, a grand jury indicted Longo on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges. If the case went to trial, they'd have Williams on the stand. And as long they had Williams, they had a case.

It was the kind of phone call a homicide detective lives for: In October 1997, a month after the indictment in Buffalo, Cleveland Detective Gary Garisek got a phone call.

"We've got some information about an old unsolved murder," Tom Longo told him. "Are you interested?"

Garisek met Longo and his attorney, Bill Summers, at Slyman's, a popular corned-beef stop east of downtown.

The tip was about the 1985 murder of Ralph Barone. In the late 1970s, Garisek recalls, Barone told a group of mafia-connected drug dealers that he could bring planeloads of drugs from Florida to Cleveland. He convinced the dealers to front him cash -- as much as $400,000, according to one account -- and went to Florida to buy the plane.

Then he disappeared.

He hid out for years, spending the money. Eventually, Garisek says, the dealers were able to contact Barone. It's OK, they told him. Come back to Cleveland. "The dumbass believed them," Garisek says.

On November 11, 1985, Barone was ambushed outside a downtown bar. A bullet thrashed through his stomach and out his back. He tried to run. But more bullets came, tearing into his back, his shoulder, and his head. The killer dragged his body into a rental car, then dumped the car in a parking garage at East 52nd and Prospect.

The case had been cold for years. Though the cops had always suspected a hit, they couldn't figure out who did it. But Longo said he knew the killer: Lester "Skip" Williams.

Williams had confessed to it years before, Longo said. Williams also said he wasn't alone at the time: Bill Cope drove the getaway car.

When you spend your life among criminals, you know what it takes to weasel out of trouble. Williams knew he could keep his prison time short if he ratted out Longo. Longo knew that if he wanted to save his career -- and stay out of jail -- he needed to destroy Williams and Cope's reputations. Pinning them for a contract killing was a start.

"Tom did what he wanted to do," Summers says. "He said, 'Fuck him, if he's gonna do this to me.'"

It was a lot for Longo to juggle. While his lawyers traded 100-page motions with government lawyers -- buying time for the cops to build a murder case against Williams -- Longo kept working as an attorney. He also remained the centerpiece of his family, visiting his mom in Florida and his son Tom Jr. in Italy.

But in the spring of 1998, it was Longo's other son, 26-year-old Dominic, who would fill out Dad's to-do list.

Dominic was a bright but troubled kid, family friends say. He'd spent time at Columbia and other universities, planning to become a doctor. But like his dad, he also had a penchant for drugs and crime.

That spring, Dominic was running a racket of his own. For months, his girlfriend had been house-sitting for a rich, elderly Hunting Valley couple who were out of the country. Dominic got hold of the couple's checkbook. He enlisted jobless guys from a downtown temp agency, dressed them in khakis and sports coats, and sent them to banks to deposit the checks, thousands of dollars at a time. Then they withdrew the cash, gave it to Dominic, and took a small cut for themselves.

But when a teller at the couple's bank got suspicious, the scam fell apart. The cops caught up with one of Dominic's pawns, 30-year-old David Williams, who unveiled the scheme.

Dominic probably wouldn't have gotten much time. The rich couple wasn't making much of the theft, says Cleveland Detective Mike O'Malley, who worked the case. But when Dominic found out that Williams had squealed, he told his girlfriend he'd have to "get rid of him."

So he drugged Williams, sliced his abdomen so he wouldn't float, and dropped him in the New River in Fayette County, West Virginia.

Police were still building their theft case against Dominic -- and didn't even know about the murder -- when Dominic was jailed for writing himself false prescriptions. Then Williams' decomposed body washed ashore. Cops found out that Dominic had bragged up the killing to fellow inmates. Their case was rock solid.

Longo hired Summers to represent Dominic, and Summers eventually got prosecutors to knock the aggravated murder -- which carries a possible death sentence -- down to murder. Considering the gruesome nature of the slaying, his sentence -- 15 years to life in prison -- was a gift. But Longo had become more father than lawyer, Summers says, "forgetting everything he's learned in the trenches all these years."

He couldn't resist working the case himself, and he didn't even want his son to take the deal. "Tom was absolutely uncontrollable," Summers adds. "It made no sense . . . He couldn't see that we were saving the kid's life."

In the end, Dominic took the deal. He'll be up for parole in eight years.

Says Summers: "We couldn't have asked for a more fair resolution."

If there was a way out of his own mess, Tom Longo was going to find it.

In September 1998, he contacted narcotics Detective James Mendolera and asked the detective to meet with him.

Mendolera's nerves revved as he arrived at Longo's office and found him waiting outside. Knowing Longo was under federal indictment, the detective imagined FBI agents hiding in nearby vans, watching his every move.

"Can't we just go up to your office?" Mendolera recalls asking.

But Longo didn't want Summers, who shared the office, to see them. They stayed outside.

"Everyone is out to get me," the prosecutor said, his eyes darting nervously around the parking lot.

The two knew each other well. As a member of a regional drug task force on the East Side, Mendolera had worked with Longo on drug cases in Bedford. The detective's dad had also married into Longo's family. They saw each other occasionally at family functions. Just three months before, Mendolera and his wife had cut Longo a check at a fund-raiser for his judicial campaign.

The detective was investigating a drug dealer named Matt Gentile, who happened to be a former client of Longo's. Longo shared what he knew about Gentile, basically confirming that Gentile was, in fact, a dealer.

Then Longo told a story: A few years back, he had owed his business partner, Skip Williams, a large sum of money. Williams wanted Longo to invest in a pot deal in Buffalo. Longo didn't like the sound of it; he said no.

Williams then asked Gentile to invest in the deal, but Gentile also thought the deal sounded fishy, Longo said.

It was a Hail Mary. Longo knew that Mendolera eventually would have to interview Gentile for his own investigation. He hoped Gentile could back his story -- their story -- and tell the detective they had nothing to do with the pot deal.

Which is exactly what happened. Mendolera wasn't thrilled about the meeting; he sensed that Longo was trying to use their relationship to help his defense. But the detective had a drug dealer to take down. When he found Longo's name in Gentile's phone book, he figured he'd at least ask why.

Gentile repeated Longo's story, saying that Skip Williams had come to them about a dope deal. Both turned him down, Gentile said. Then Williams pleaded with Gentile not to tell Longo he was going through with the Buffalo deal.

Mendolera filed all this in a report, which Longo later tried to use to clear his name. But the taped conversation between Williams and Longo made it clear that Longo not only knew the dope deal was going down; he knew who the dope was going to: Sam Vecchio and Matt Gentile.

All the stalling and ratting couldn't save Tom Longo. The prosecutor's murder case against Skip Williams eventually fizzled; he copped to one count of tampering with evidence and remained ready to testify against Longo in Buffalo. The conversation between Mendolera and Gentile couldn't overcome Longo's own taped admissions.

But the feds knew their case was in the hands of an ex-con, that any jury would know Williams wanted to save his own hide. And while they wanted Longo behind bars, their first priority was to get Longo out of public office.

"A guaranteed conviction would remove him from public office," says prosecutor James P. Kennedy Jr. "And, like it or not, our witness did have a prior felony." By that time, his other witness, Bill Cope, had bled to death during routine surgery.

So they cut a deal. In February 2000, Longo admitted that he knew a crime was taking place and didn't report it. That fall, a judge sentenced him to three years in prison and fined him $20,000.

The court allowed Longo to spend the holidays with his family. When he finally reported to prison in 2001, he was housed in a medical center in Massachusetts; he's been battling bladder problems for years, friends say.

Five months later, he was transferred to a medium-security prison in western Pennsylvania, where he spent less than a year before moving to a halfway house. He emerged in October of 2002 -- on probation, under supervision, subject to drug tests, but out.

Time had taken its toll. The Supreme Court quickly disbarred Longo after his conviction. Friends turned on him. Bob Reid, then Bedford's police chief and a cop's cop to the core, urged the city council to remove Longo from the payroll even before he was convicted. Reid also wrote the government with information he thought would help their case.

"When you lay down with pigs, you come up smelling like garbage," says Reid, now Bedford city manager. "You're violating the public trust. I felt absolutely offended by it."

For Longo, the days of the big-shot attorney arguing law over drinks at the Theatrical were dead.

"He used to have a lot of friends in town," says Irwin Frank, Longo's family attorney. "When he got in trouble and named for different things, basically they all abandoned him. Very few people want to talk about him now. I hate to see someone who works their entire life, diligently and professionally, come to this kind of end."

Longo still traveled -- he visited his son in Italy and made frequent trips to Florida. Other than that, he kept to himself in Solon, friends say, and stayed close to his neighbors. They'd watched out for his wife while he was locked up and had remained supportive to Dominic, who wrote and called from prison. The dads shared wine- and pickle-making stories, and got together on Saturday afternoons by the pool.

"He went away and he came back, and I thought that was it," says friend Edwin Vargas. "It was the straight and narrow. If there was any hesitancy to walk the straight line, I thought it was cleared up."

To Ed Skok, the call came as no surprise. He'd met Longo years earlier, when Skok was having trouble with permits for his contracting business. Prosecutor Longo helped him out. They'd been friends since, getting together occasionally to fish or hang out.

So on July 31, 2004, after he was done making pickles with his neighbors, Longo called Skok. He had some people over, he said. Why not stop by?

Skok was out fishing. He'd be over shortly.

When he got there, he was greeted by Longo's 30-year-old neighbor. She was soaking wet, fresh out of the pool. She threw her arms around him, Skok recalls. "She was hammered."

Longo and the woman were guzzling shots. She slammed into a wall on the way to the bathroom. She even flashed his son-in-law and grandson, who had come with him, Skok says. That was his cue to leave.

When Skok told this story to police a few days later, it looked like a last-ditch effort to save a friend from prison. The woman says she had only two margaritas over the entire day. She never flashed anyone, she says.

But in the 18 months since that day, other parts of her story have changed.

Every police and court document related to the case says the woman thought she was taking Valium, but later found out it was Rohypnol. As she tells the story on a gray Saturday morning in January, sitting in her parents' kitchen across the ponds from Longo's, the details change. Now she says that when Longo gave her a pill, he told her it was Xanax. She has a prescription for Xanax, she explains, and needed to take one anyway. When asked about the change in her story, she says she considers Valium and Xanax, both anti-anxiety medicines, to be "basically the same."

But mixing up Valium and Xanax -- especially for someone with a prescription -- is hard to do.

The case "was a joke," says Frank. "Here's a girl who claims she was given roofies by Tom. He wouldn't lay a hand on her in a million years."

Prosecutors charged Longo with gross sexual imposition. The case was disposed of quietly, with Longo pleading guilty to one count of sexual imposition. It was another felony on his record, but he received a 30-day suspended sentence and wouldn't spend a night in prison.

The conviction, however, was the least of Longo's worries. When the fire department cracked open the safes from his basement, police found evidence more damning than any bag of pills. Longo's basement, it turned out, was stocked with enough firepower to last a month in Baghdad.

The contents: 17 guns, including several semiautomatics, 2 Uzi 9-millimeters, and a .45 caliber machine gun. There were also three silencers and dozens of boxes of ammunition.

Solon police quickly contacted the feds.

In October, a federal grand jury indicted Longo, now 61, on three counts of federal firearms violations -- charges that could land him in prison for a decade.

No one's speculating what all that weaponry was for. The prosecutor won't say a thing, and Longo's attorney, Michael Hennenberg, did not return Scene's calls. But suddenly Skip Williams' story of Tom Longo as the gun- and drug-buying friend of the mob doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Maybe he was holding them for someone. Maybe he just had a thing for guns; people collect stranger things. But even Summers -- a loyal friend who has a rebuttal or denial for every one of Longo's indiscretions -- has trouble rationalizing the arsenal.

"Tom, what the fuck are you doing?" Summers asks. "You mean to tell me you don't know you're not supposed to have guns?"

Whatever Longo's explanation, he knew it wouldn't stand up in court. He didn't show for his November 2 arraignment. The judge immediately issued a warrant for his arrest. But Longo was gone.

The feds say they've amassed plenty of leads. They know he has ties to Italy -- he's traveled there for years -- and Japan, where his son now lives. But they haven't found him. For now, they're left looking for answers, just like everyone else.

"It's a plot made to order, that none of us really knew Tom Longo," Summers says. "But I would bet everything I'm about that that's just not the case."

But in the next breath, even Summers sounds ready to hedge his bet: "Maybe there was a sinister side that none of us ever knew."

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