ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Although she stands just a bit over five feet tall, Donna Fitzsimmons is a tough woman who took on Cleveland mobsters in the 1980s and sent them to prison for long terms.
Four decades ago, she was a federal prosecutor assigned to the case of Angelo Lonardo, mobster and boss of the Cleveland Mafia family.
"It was quite a victory in being able to prove to a jury how it all worked; that this really was a conspiracy with Angelo at the top and the other people below him -- kind of underbosses," said Fitzsimmons.
She spoke inside the Rocky River Municipal Court where she has been a judge where she was served since 1994. However, in the early 1980s, she took on Lonardo in Cleveland federal court. It was there Lonardo confessed his own involvement in the Mafia and testified for the prosecution against others in the crime world.
"Yes, I was in the case that was the last case that brought the mob down," she said, flashing a proud smile. So big was her work as the only woman on the then-Cleveland federal strike force, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement -- widely known as the Mob Museum in Las Vegas -- established her story as part of its exhibit.
There, with mob figures like Lonardo and Al Capone are photographs of the smiling Fitzsimmons. She was 29 when she tackled the Cleveland mobsters. It was a time in Cleveland when the Mafia had widespread power. "In 1977, we were the bombing capital of the United States with 27 bombings," said Fitzsimmons as she reflected on her federal prosecutor times.
The law has long been her love. When she was 15, her father, who worked as a carpenter in the Cuyahoga County Justice Center, took her to trials. As she watched judges and attorneys in court cases, she was bitten by the legal bug. "When I came out of that experience," remembered Fitzsimmons, "I said to everyone that's what I want to do."
That led to college and to a law degree. As she shops for groceries in her Rocky River hometown, many people are surprised to learn the story of the slight woman pushing the supermarket basket is one tough woman who went after the mob, prosecuted several of them, and saw them marched to long prison terms.
Fitzsimmons is now a board member of the Las Vegas Mob Museum. It is the museum where she has a starring role in a hard-as-nails edgy picture with some unsavory characters whom she brought down when she went after the Cleveland crime underworld and won.
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