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The amazing transformation of Carmen Policy, defender of mobsters, babysitter to flashy kid moguls, and now savior of the Cleveland Browns

Wednesday, Oct 13 1999
The parade ended with thousands of revelers amassed at Public Square for an afternoon pep rally, cheering for Browns old and new. They saw Mayor Michael White bark. Alongside White, team owner Al Lerner, President and CEO Carmen Policy, and Coach Chris Palmer sat on a stage 10 feet above a wall of police fencing and concrete barriers, as safely ensconced from the masses as the Ku Klux Klan would be some 22 hours later.

Policy looked relaxed as he stepped to the podium and called Cleveland the "Rocky Balboa of the great American sports cities." And why not? Policy is used to throngs of adoring football fans. The undersized Youngstown native has been gridiron royalty since the early '90s, when the San Francisco 49ers he helped build continued as one of the elite franchises of professional sports.

But Public Square holds other, darker memories for Policy. The stage was only a few hundred feet from the federal and county courthouses where, in his previous life as a slick and gifted criminal defense attorney, Policy spent months at a time defending some of the most notorious mobsters between New York and Chicago.

Before the speeches and pep talks, fans and VIPs alike watched a brief video about the team's namesake, Paul Brown, on a temporary Jumbotron screen. WEWS-TV sportscaster Dyrol Joyner introduced the clip by asking the frenzied crowd, "Can you really understand where you came from?... Let's take a look back and see where it all started years ago."

Joyner's directive could be usefully applied to Policy as well.

Despite all the accolades, the overwhelming praise, the regal bearing and undeniable charm, there are some interesting and even unsettling questions about the man the Sporting News hailed as the NFL Executive of the Year in 1994.

Some of the events in Policy's past are simply overlooked-but-interesting nuggets, like the starring role he played in one of the most sensational trials in Cleveland history, that of the killers of Danny Greene. Or how Policy whined that a known killer and mobster he represented was being victimized by the Justice Department.

Other questions are tougher. Like why his name was mentioned repeatedly, and often cryptically, in secretly recorded 1980 conversations after mobsters laundered money through Policy's law partner. Or what Policy might have known about alleged links between the gangsters he represented and one of his biggest business clients. Or why so many of his business partners wind up in trouble with the law.

Policy will not answer these or any other questions about his past. A Browns spokesman turned down a request for an interview, saying Policy does not have the time.

Which is too bad. There is no smoking gun in Policy's hand, no skeleton threatening to destroy his career, should it come rattling out of the closet. But a candid conversation might shed some light on how Policy has managed a unique and remarkable transformation, from a lawyer defending some of the state's most ruthless killers to the toast of Cleveland's social scene.

All his life, Policy has shown an uncanny ability to swim with sharks and emerge unscathed. Nearly everyone around him -- his best friend, his former business partner, his mentor -- has been tied to serious criminal wrongdoing. But none of the proverbial muck has ever stuck to Policy. He leads a charmed life, dancing away from the flames as they engulf those around him, while his reputation grows even larger than his bank account.

But a hard look back reveals a whole range of evidence -- some circumstantial, some anecdotal, some just plain common sense -- that suggests maybe, just maybe, there's more to Carmen Policy than anyone except Carmen really knows.

A Class Act
Policy is, by nearly universal acclaim, among the brightest and most charming men in professional sports. Friends say he has the sharpest mind they've ever come across, and even the very few people who admit to disliking him have a grudging admiration for his intellect and accomplishments. Policy has argued before the United States Supreme Court, built winning football teams, and single-handedly revolutionized the structure of football contracts. Political, business, and community leaders speak glowingly of him, often with an almost eerie uniformity.

"He's a very capable guy," says defense attorney Niki Schwartz. "He's very bright, very personable."

"He has probably the most charisma of anybody you could ever meet," says Youngstown fireworks executive Bruce Zoldan. "He walks in, and the room lights up."

"He's extremely suave, very charming," says attorney John R. Climaco.

"He's sure polished," says Mike Poplar, former vice president and treasurer of the Cleveland Stadium Corp. "He's very glib."

All of them are no doubt sincere. But the feeling in talking to people about Carmen Policy is that they'd rather have a root canal than say something negative about the only bona fide celebrity associated with the new Browns.

Policy's roots lie in Youngstown. Like many of the town's famous and infamous natives', they go back to a low-lying neighborhood on the city's east side known as Smokey Hollow. Shopping mall magnates Eddie DeBartolo Sr. and William Cafaro were raised there, as were Policy and several of the town's better-known mobsters.

In the postwar years, the neighborhood was anchored by Italian immigrants and their descendants, most of whom worked in thriving steel mills. Today many of the houses are gone, and the few that remain are generally run-down and in need of repair.

Policy's parents operated a drugstore and soda fountain, but both of them died suddenly before Policy, an only child, was 10 years old. He moved in with his mother's parents, the Tisones, and soon was working at the tavern that provided the family's income.

He followed a well-worn path out of the neighborhood, attending Ursuline High School (where he made the football team but never played a down), followed by Youngstown State University. From there he made a significant jump to Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., from which he graduated in 1966.

About The Author

Mike Tobin


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