Joey Merlino

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Joseph Merlino
Joey Merlino Surveillance.jpg
Joseph Merlino in a surveillance photo in the 1990s.
Born (1962-03-16) March 16, 1962 (age 56)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Status Alive
Nationality American
Known for Head of the Philadelphia crime family
Spouse(s) Deborah Merlino
Parent(s) Rita Merlino (mother)
Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (father)

Joseph Salvatore "Skinny Joey" Merlino (born March 16, 1962) is an American mobster believed to be the boss of the Philadelphia crime family.[1] He rose to power in the mid-nineties after he allegedly fought a war for control of the criminal organization, he led the crime family in gambling, loan sharking and extortion.[2] In comparison to other traditional mob bosses who shunned the limelight, Merlino interacted regularly with the media and the public,[3] he is the son of deceased Philadelphia crime family Underboss Chuckie Merlino.

In 2001, he was convicted of several RICO charges including racketeering, illegal gambling and extortion. Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison and was released on parole in 2011,[4] since being released from prison, the FBI and organized crime reporters believe he continues to run the Philadelphia-South Jersey Mafia. Merlino himself completely disagrees, claiming he retired from a life of crime, as of 2015, Merlino splits his time between south Florida and Philadelphia.[5][6][7][8]

Family mob ties[edit]

Joseph Salvatore Merlino is the son of Italian-American parents Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (1939-2012) and Rita (born 1942). Joey was raised in South Philadelphia and Ventnor City, New Jersey,[9] he is also the nephew of deceased Philadelphia crime family mobster-turned government witness Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino. Joey's sister was briefly engaged to Salvatore Testa.

He had been friends with future made man in the Philadelphia crime family Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini and his brother Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini, Jr. since attending St. Thomas Aquinas grade school in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Merlino's father owned and operated the 9M Bar in Southwark that Nicky Scarfo used as his criminal headquarters during his attempt to become the new boss of the Philadelphia crime family.[10]

Criminal activity[edit]

In August 1982, Merlino and Salvatore Scafidi, son of bookmaker Gaetano Scafidi Sr., beat and stabbed two male patrons at the Lido Restaurant in Atlantic City. In 1984 Merlino was found guilty on two counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose;[11] in August 1984 he was banned by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission from New Jersey casinos.[12] His father Salvatore would also be banned by exactly the same commission as his son for his criminal activities on May 23, 1984. Nicky Scarfo demoted his father Salvatore from his position as underboss to soldier because of his father's alcoholism; in 1988 Salvatore was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison for two counts of racketeering and drug trafficking.

Joseph Merlino has been described as a particularly vicious person, obsessed with his own public image, and another version of New York's John Gotti. "Joey was a party guy," said mob associate Ron Previte, a police officer-turned gangster-turned government witness. "He liked to go out. He liked to gamble, he liked the high life." He invited TV crews to his annual Christmas party for the homeless, and was a fixture at the city's nightclubs, restaurants, and sporting events.[13][14] Along with his longtime buddies and futures mobsters, he was known to beat up people, rob people, and start fights in clubs.[14]

On October 31, 1989, Nicky, Jr., the son of imprisoned Philadelphia family boss Nicky Scarfo, Sr., was shot in an Italian restaurant in Bella Vista. The younger Scarfo was shot eight times with a MAC-10, but was not hit in any vital organs, he quickly recovered and left the hospital less than two weeks later. No one was ever charged with the attempted murder, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law enforcement believe Merlino carried out the shooting to settle a score between the Scarfos and Merlinos and to show that the elder Scarfo had no more power in Philadelphia. Merlino denied any involvement in the shooting and claimed he was home that night under house arrest. Years later when a TV reporter approached Merlino and asked about a rumoured $500,000 bounty on his life, Merlino responded "Give me the half million dollars and I’ll shoot myself."[15] In August 1989, Merlino was charged with interstate theft and conspiracy charges stemming from an incident where $352,000 was stolen from a Federal Armored Express truck in 1987;[16] in January 1990, Merlino was convicted of planning the heist and sentenced to three years in prison.

Mob wars[edit]

Gaetano "Horsehead" Scafidi (left) was a childhood friend of Merlino. He eventually switched allegiance to John Stanfa (right) in the 1990s; in 2000, he became a government witness and testified at Merlino's trial.

Merlino served his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, McKean, where he met mobster Ralph Natale in 1990. Natale was a longtime mobster who was serving a 15 year prison sentence for arson and drug trafficking. According to Natale, he and Merlino began plotting to take over the Philadelphia crime family during this period. Natale named Michael Ciancaglini, Steven Mazzone, George Borgesi, Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi and Martin Angelina as Merlino's key associates and co-conspirators in the plan,[17][18] these men were all close friends of Merlino since high school and started moving in on criminal rackets in Philadelphia. When John Stanfa emerged as the new leader of the Philadelphia family in 1991, the young group of mobsters openly rebelled against him,[19] the "Young Turks" as the press would eventually dub Merlino's tight-knit crew, struck first with the killing of Felix Bocchino on January 29, 1992. Merlino was released from prison in April 1992.

In an attempt to quell further violence, Stanfa officially inducted Merlino and his best friend Michael Ciancaglini into the crime family. Stanfa hoped he would be able to keep tabs on the Merlino crew and make it easier to kill them if necessary. While this act of diplomacy temporarly ended the violence, by the end of 1992 an all out war broke out between Stanfa and Merlino,[20] on August 5, 1993, Merlino survived a drive-by shooting assassination attempt by two Stanfa gunmen, taking four bullets in the leg and buttocks, while Ciancaglini was shot in the chest and died.[21] On August 31, 1993, a drive by shooting was performed on Stanfa and his son while they were driving on the Schuylkill Expressway. Stanfa escaped uninjured and his son survived being shot in the jaw, on September 17, 1993, a friend of Merlino’s was shot and killed by Stanfa gunmen.[22][23] Stanfa gunman Philip Colletti testified in court that he planted a remote control bomb under Merlino's car that failed to go off multiple times;[24] in November 1993, Merlino was arrested by the FBI, charged with violation of his supervised release, and sent back to prison.

Mob leader[edit]

Stanfa was arrested for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations in March 1994 and was convicted and sentenced to life in November 1995. With most of Stanfa's supporters also arrested and convicted, Merlino, released from prison in November 1994, won the war and named Ralph Natale as the new boss while positioning himself as his underboss, during Natale's reign, Merlino was the real power in the family, allowing Natale to become boss to direct law enforcement attention away from himself.[25] Nevertheless, Merlino gained notieriaty as a flamboyant, celebrity gangster who often went out partying with a large entourage, the press dubbed him the John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue due to his candor demeanor in front of news cameras (Passyunk Avenue being a street in South Philadelphia). He also invited the press when he held Christmas parties for the homeless and gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving in housing projects.[26]

Merlino, 32 years old by the end of the war, and his crew were all young and unexperienced in running a criminal organization of such magnitude, they were also flashy, loved the limelight and built up a violent reputation to keep things in order. The Merlino faction's arrogance and aggressiveness turned off a lot of criminals from working with the crime family.[27] Merlino would often make big bets with bookies and refuse to pay when he lost,[28] this practice, known as guzzling, was used on both independent and mob run bookies. During this time, Merlino and Natale over saw the crime family's gambling, loan sharking, extortion and stolen goods rackets.

In 1995, Louis Turra, leader of the Philadelphia drug gang the 10th and Oregon crew (also known as the 10th and O gang), was severely beaten by Merlino’s men, alledgly for failing to pay a Mafia street tax on the gang's illegal earnings.[29] Angered by the beating, Turra sought vengeance, his father Anthony hosted a meeting at his house during which Anthony, Louis and his gang discussed killing Merlino. In January 1998, Louis Turra hanged himself in a New York City jail while awaiting trial; in March 1998, Anthony Turra, on trial on charges of plotting to kill Merlino, was shot to death outside his home by a gunman in a black ski mask. He was shot twice as he left for the federal courthouse, where a jury was deliberating in the racketeering and drug case against him and four other men. "We consider this an organized crime assassination, a mob hit," Police Inspector Jerrold Kane said.[30] Three years later, Merlino was put on trial for helping orchestrate the murder, but was acquitted.

By the late 1990s, Merlino dodged more than two dozen attempts on his life.[31] Merlino was friends with now incarcerated Steve "Gorilla" Mondevergine, boss of the Pagans MC motorcycle gang.[32] Merlino sometimes used the Pagans to help settle underworld disputes,[33] during the 1990s, Merlino was also aligned with members of the Junior Black Mafia.[34][35] Following Natalie's arrest for parole violation, Merlino officially took over the crime family, cutting off Natale.

Racketeering conviction[edit]

On June 28, 1999, Merlino was indicted and detained without bail on one charge of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and one charge of unlawful use of a communication facility in relation to a drug trafficking offense,[36] the charges were later expanded to include racketeering and ordering or approving three murders and two attempted murders. The prosecution's case was aided by several of Merlino's former Mafia cohorts agreeing to cooperate with the government. Natale agreed to cooperate in order to escape drug trafficking charges in 1999. Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi agreed to cooperate in 2000 while finishing a prison sentence due to fears that he would be murdered by Merlino's crew. Peter "the Crumb" Caprio agreed to cooperate with the government in 2000 after being charged with two murders[37] and Ron Previte was a long time undercover informant, they all testified that Merlino started a mob war to take over the Philadelphia crime family and that he committed various criminal acts in the 1990s.

On July 20, 2001, the jury returned a mixed verdict. Merlino beat all the murder, attempted murder and drug trafficking charges. However, Merlino was found guilty of racketeering, illegal sports gambling, collection of an unlawful debt and receiving stolen property. Along with Merlino, six of his peers were also convicted of various charges, on December 3, 2001 Judge Herbert J. Hutton gave Merlino a 14-year prison sentence.[38] Commenting on his conviction, "Ain't bad," Merlino said. "Better than the death penalty."[39] A month after the verdict, Merlino was indicted in federal court again for the 1996 murder of Joseph Sodano, despite a jury finding the murder charge "not proven" as a RICO predicate act;[40][41] in March 2004, Merlino was acquitted of Sodano's murder as a violent crime in aid of racketeering.[42]

Merlino served his prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. Merlino was released from the correctional facility on March 15, 2011 after serving almost 12 years of his sentence.[43][44][45] He was transferred to a halfway house in Florida for six months and then was on supervised release until 2015.[46][47] Just before his parole restrictions expired, Merlino was handed four months in a Miami prison for meeting with John Ciancaglini (a co-defendant at his racketeering trial) and other known organized crime figures in Florida, a violation of his parole.[48][49][50][51]

Current status[edit]

In September 2012 the Miami Herald reported that Merlino lives in Boca Raton, Florida;[52] in a 2013 interview with George Anastasia, Merlino denied any current involvement in the Philadelphia Mafia and has stated that his life as a criminal is over. He was quoted in the interview stating "I want no part of that" and that there were "too many rats."[53][54] In November 2014, Merlino opened a restaurant named Merlino's, that featured his mother's recipes,[55] the restaurant was owned by a group of investors; Merlino is forbidden from owning an establishment that serves alcohol due to his criminal record.[56] Instead, Merlino officially worked there as a maître d' until the restaurant closed in 2016, on September 7, 2016, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board banned Merlino from all casinos in the state.[57]

On August 4, 2016, Merlino was one of 46 people arrested up and down the east coast in a RICO indictment. Merlino was arrested at his home in Florida and put on trial in New York City. Merlino was charged with one count of racketeering, one count of fraud and two counts of illegal gambling. Merlino was accused of entering into illegal business arrangements with New York criminals in the Genovese crime family.[58] Merlino was also accused of taking part in a massive medical fraud scheme in Florida that had doctors prescribe patients with unnecessary (and ineffective) medical products and billing patients' insurance companies, on August 12, Merlino was released on a $5 million bond.[59]

The other 45 men charged in the broad indictment accepted favorable plea bargains and pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Merlino refused any plea offer and went to trial on January 30, 2018.[60][61][62] The trial concluded after two weeks of testimony, on February 20, Judge Richard J. Sullivan declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict on any of the four counts against Merlino.[63] To avoid a retrial, Merlino entered into a plea deal with the federal prosecutors on April 27, he agreed to plead guilty to one charge of placing a bet via an electronic device in exchange for the U.S. Attorney's Office dropping the remaining charges against him.[64] Merlino faces up to two years in prison and will be sentenced on September 13.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Julie K. (2012-10-02). "Boca Return: Is Joey Merlino back in charge?". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2013-02-16. 
  2. ^ Anastasia, George (August 4, 2016). "Joey Merlino arrested in major mob bust". PhillyVoice. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  3. ^ http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article1943159.html] [https://mobile.nytimes.com/2001/10/28/nyregion/in-person-the-mouthpiece.html
  4. ^ "'Skinny Joey' Merlino released from prison". Philly.com. Laura McCrystal. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  5. ^ "Merlino's Restaurant". Merlino's. -----. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "Philly Mobster Merlino Now a Florida Maitre D'". Thomas Fitzgerald. NBC News Philadelphia. November 23, 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  7. ^ "Merlino's back story as big as its food". South Florida.com. John Tanasychuk. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  8. ^ "EXCLUSIVE — Retired Mob Boss "Skinny" Joey Merlino to Open Restaurant in Boca Raton!". Jose Lambiet's Gossip Extra. Jose Lambiet. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  9. ^ McGarvey, Brendan. "Sins of the Fathers". Citypaper.net. Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  10. ^ http://www.state.nj.us/sci/pdf/ocbars2.pdf
  11. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20060114173032/http://www.state.nj.us/lps/ge/exclusion/merlino_j.htm. Archived from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved March 21, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "The Region; Casino Agency Bars 4 More Men". The New York Times. August 9, 1984. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Former 'Capo': 'I Was Underpaid'". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  14. ^ a b "Straight From the Horsehead's Mouth | Cover Story | News and Opinion | Philly Weekly". Philadelphiaweekly.com. 2013-12-31. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  15. ^ http://www.bigtrial.net/2013/04/merlino-talks-about-nicky-skins-and.html
  16. ^ https://www.upi.com/Archives/1989/08/09/Two-held-in-armored-truck-heist/8368618638400/
  17. ^ Caparella, Kitty. "Recalling A Bloody Hit." Philadelphia Daily News. April 24, 2001.
  18. ^ Anastasia, George. "Mob Boss Natale Tells of 'Descent Into Hell'." Philadelphia Inquirer. March 31, 2001.
  19. ^ http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/ron-previte-dies-informant-mob-bosses-philly-20170829.html
  20. ^ https://www.upi.com/Archives/1995/11/21/Jury-convicts-Philadelphia-mob-boss/8470816930000/
  21. ^ https://www.deseretnews.com/article/452913/STORIES-OF-HITS-THAT-MISSED-ARE-A-SMASH-IN-COURT.html
  22. ^ https://www.upi.com/Archives/1995/11/21/Jury-convicts-Philadelphia-mob-boss/8470816930000/
  23. ^ https://www.upi.com/Archives/1994/08/12/Santa-Claus-admits-role-in-mob-murder/4654776664000/
  24. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/philly-gooffellas-made-mess-mob-article-1.697114
  25. ^ Barry, Jim. "Who's the Boss?". Citypaper.net. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  26. ^ http://www.bigtrial.net/2013/04/merlino-talks-about-nicky-skins-and.html
  27. ^ http://mycitypaper.com/articles/2002-07-12/cb4.shtml
  28. ^ http://www.bigtrial.net/2016/11/reprinted-with-permission-from-gangland.html
  29. ^ "Who's the mob hit-wit" March 14, 1998. Philadelphia Daily News
  30. ^ "Charged With Planning Mob Hit, Reputed Gangster Slain On Street". Chicago Tribune. March 19, 1998. 
  31. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20070929122158/http://www.philly.com/dailynews/features/20070405_National_Geographic_takes_on_the_Philly_mob.html. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved June 26, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20101216_Former_Pagans_leader_Mondevergine_arrested_on_attempted-murder_charge.html?mobi=true
  33. ^ "Former Pagans leader Mondevergine arrested on attempted-murder charge". Philly.com. June 2, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  34. ^ http://mycitypaper.com/articles/102501/news.underworld.shtml
  35. ^ https://www.ozy.com/flashback/inside-the-drug-dealing-empire-that-ruled-west-philly/82468
  36. ^ https://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/opinions/99D1011P.pdf
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  42. ^ [1] Archived April 17, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  43. ^ "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved December 5, 2009. 
  44. ^ [2][dead link]
  45. ^   by VERNON ODOM (March 15, 2011). "Joey Merlino leaves prison; heads to Florida". Abclocal.go.com. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  46. ^ ""Skinny Joey" Merlino's Out of the Joint". NBC. NBC News Philadelphia. March 15, 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  47. ^ "Ex-Philly mob leader "Skinny Joey Merlino now in Florida halfway house". Press of Atlantic City. PAC. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  48. ^ "Joey Merlino, Ex-Mob Boss, Gets 4 Months For Meeting Friend". Huffington Post. Maryclaire Dale. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  49. ^ "'Skinny Joey' Merlino Reports to Federal Prison After Parole Violation". NBC. NBC News Philadelphia. January 5, 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  50. ^ "REPUTED EX-MOB BOSS JOEY MERLINO FREE AFTER 4 MONTHS IN PRISON". ABC. ABC 6 Action News. April 24, 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  51. ^ "Merlino serves all but 10 days of vacated 4-month prison sentence". PhillyVoice.com. Bob McGovern. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  52. ^ Brown, Julie K. (2012-09-29). "Joseph Merlino: The mobster next door". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  53. ^ "Skinny Joey Talks About Nicky Skins And Life Without The Mob | Big Trial | Philadelphia Trial Blog". Big Trial. 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  54. ^ http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/dozens-of-mobsters-busted-in-east-coast-takedown/ar-BBvfRr1?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=mailsignout
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  63. ^ http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/philadelphia/skinny-joey-merlino-nyc-mistrial-philly-mob-boss-mafia-20180220.html
  64. ^ https://nypost.com/2018/04/27/mob-boss-pleads-guilty-to-illegal-gambling-to-avoid-retrial/

External links[edit]