By MIKE ROBINSON
AP Legal Affairs Writer
CHICAGO- A reputed Mafia enforcer who eluded a federal manhunt for eight months before FBI agents swooped down on him in rural Kentucky three weeks ago pleaded not guilty Friday to racketeering and extortion charges."Why is all the news media here?" Frank "The German" Schweihs asked as he waited for U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys to call his case.
"I don't know, slow day," defense attorney Dennis Berkson said with a straight face.
Schweihs, 75, the craggy, tough-looking alleged enforcer who according to prosecutors squeezed "street-tax" payments out of strip clubs, leaned on a cane as he stood in court.
He is one of 14 reputed mob figures under indictment in the FBI's Operation Family Secrets investigation of long-unsolved murders.
Schweihs is also one of two defendants who slipped out of sight eight months ago just before federal prosecutors unveiled the indictment, which outlines an alleged 15-year racketeering conspiracy that included at least 19 slayings.
The other fugitive, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, has still not been located.
Chicago FBI agents got a tip in mid-December concerning the whereabouts of Schweihs and agents arrested him without incident Dec. 16 outside his Berea, Kentucky, apartment in the rugged hill country 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Lexington.
Schweihs' homecoming was attended by Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office and about a dozen other agents, including members of the FBI's organized-crime squad who spent years working on the Family Secrets investigation.
Keys ordered Schweihs to appear before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel on Jan. 17 when the other defendants are also due in court for a status hearing.
Schweihs was shown a copy of the indictment and he said it was the first time that he had seen it. After Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell A. Mars read the charges, Keys asked Schweihs if he had understood them.
"I didn't understand it but I heard what he said," Schweihs said.
Schweihs was then taken back to the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he is to be held pending trial. Schweihs could get life in prison if convicted of the racketeering charges.
Berkson told reporters after the hearing that Schweihs was eager for his day in court and "believes that when all of the evidence is in he will be acquitted."