March 16, 1962 |
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Known for||Head of the Philadelphia crime family|
|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 despite the appearance of having various legitimate business fronts as well as accounts from acting bosses; led it primarily in loan sharking, gambling and extortion. During the 1990s, Merlino began a mob war within the crime family and survived numerous assassination attempts. By 1995 he was the effective leader of the Philadelphia crime family. Unlike most mobsters who shunned the limelight, Merlino always enjoyed the publicity from the media and the public. He is the son of deceased Scarfo 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. From accounts of crime and mob experts[who?], Merlino is believed to currently be directly involved in organized crime and the Philadelphia Mafia. Merlino himself completely disagrees, claiming he retired from a life of crime. As of 2015, Merlino splits his time between Florida and Philadelphia.
Family mob ties
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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. He is also the nephew of deceased former alleged Philadelphia crime family mobster Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino.
He has two sisters, Natalie and Maria. His sister Maria was engaged to Salvatore Testa until he broke it off seven months before he was murdered. He had been friends with future made man in the Philadelphia crime family Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini and his brother Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini since attending St. Thomas Aquinas grade school in Point Breeze, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1970s Salvatore owned and operated the 9M Bar at 9th Street and Moyamensing Avenue in Southwark, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that Nicky Scarfo used as his criminal headquarters during his attempt to become the new boss of the Philadelphia crime family. The 9M Bar would later be renamed Anthony's Bar.
In the summer of 1983, his father Salvatore starting raising tension between himself and mob boss Nicky Scarfo. George Anastasia said, "He had been picked up on a drunken driving charge in Margate, New Jersey. Merlino, who often drank more than he could handle, tried to bribe the police officer who brought him a Breathalyzer test. He offered $400 in cash and his gold watch. Merlino made his offer while he was in the police station. The cops got it all on videotape."
In August 1982, Merlino and Salvatore Scafidi, son of bookmaker Gaetano Scafidi Sr., stabbed and beat 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. In August 1984 he was barred by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission from New Jersey casinos. 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 of underboss to street soldier because of his father's alcoholism. 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 Ronald (Big Ron) Previte Atlantic City Police Department cop-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. With longtime buddies Salvatore Scafidi, Sonny Valenti, Michael Ciancaglini, Dean Heiser, and George Borgesi, he was known to beat up people, rob people, and start fights in clubs.
On October 31, 1989, it is alleged that Merlino attempted to murder the son of Nicky Scarfo, Nicky, Jr., in a Bella Vista, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Italian restaurant, Dante and Luigi's located at 762 South 10th Street wounding him several times in the chest, neck, and arm. Although police never charged anyone with the attempted murder, police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believe Merlino was behind the shooting to avenge an earlier plot by Scarfo Sr. on Merlino's father. Another motive for the attempted hit was to send a clear message that neither Scarfo nor his son Nicky Scarfo Jr. were any longer in charge of the South Philadelphia rackets. Fearing another Mafia war, Scarfo Sr. moved his son out of town.
In August 1989, Merlino was charged with robbing an armored car of $350,000. He was convicted a few months later. According to mobster Ralph Natale, he and Merlino began plotting to take over the Philadelphia crime family while they were cellmates in a federal penitentiary in 1990. Natale named Steven Mazzone, George Borgesi and Martin Angelina (an opponent of Nicky Scarfo, Jr.), all Merlino associates, as co-conspirators in the take-over plan. He was released from prison in April 1992.
Merlino and his associates started meeting with members of the Philadelphia-based Junior Black Mafia, commonly known as the JBM, which is composed of young, violent black males who specialize in the distribution of cocaine. He also enlisted the help of the Warlocks gang for some time.
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When John Stanfa emerged as the new leader of the Philadelphia family, an all-out war broke out between Stanfa and the so-called "Young Turks" led by Merlino. On August 5, 1993, Merlino survived a drive-by shooting assassination attempt by Stanfa, only taking a bullet in the buttocks, and Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini was killed. On August 31, 1993, in retaliation, Merlino's men performed a drive by shooting on Stanfa and his son while they were driving on the Schuylkill Expressway. Stanfa escaped uninjured and his son survived the shooting.
During the all-out 1993 mob war, Merlino dodged more than two dozen attempts on his life. In November 1993, Merlino was arrested by the FBI, charged with violation of parole, and sent back to prison.
Stanfa was arrested for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations in March 1994 and was convicted and sentenced to life in 1995. Ralph Natle took over the family and installed Merlino as his underboss. Ralph Natale arrest and agreement to become an FBI informant resulted in Merlino becoming boss of the Philadelphia crime family in 1998. During Natale's reign, Merlino was the real power in the family, using Natale as a lightingrod for law enforcement attention.
In 1995, Merlino survived additional assassination attempts. In 1995, Louis Turra, a reputed Philadelphia drug lord and leader of the South Philly Italian American drug gang the 10th and Oregon crew (also known as the 10th and O gang) situated in South Philadelphia, was severely beaten by Merlino’s soldiers for failing to pay a Mafia street tax on his illegal earnings. Angered by the beating, Turra sought vengeance. His father Anthony Turra allegedly hosted a meeting at his house during which Anthony, Louis and his gang discussed killing Merlino. In January 1998, Louis Turra apparently 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, once in the eye, 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.
In the late 1990s Merlino allied himself with Steve "Gorilla" Mondevergine, boss of the Pagans MC motorcycle gang. Authorities believed Merlino would use the Pagans to help settle underworld disputes.
In June 1999, Merlino was indicted on charges of racketeering, murder and drug trafficking. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison on December 3, 2001, on racketeering charges, including extortion and illegal gambling. He was acquitted of murder, attempted murder, and drug dealing. Commenting on his conviction, "Ain't bad," Merlino said. "Better than the death penalty."
In March 2004, while still imprisoned, a federal jury acquitted Merlino of August 2001 charges that he and Vincent Centorino (a member of the Philadelphia Mafia's North Jersey faction) had taken part in the 1996 murder of Joseph Sodano, a North Jersey capo.
He was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. prison on March 15, 2011.He was transferred to a halfway house in Florida and was off of supervised release in 2015. In 2015, Merlino was handed four months in a Miami prison for meeting with Johnny "Chang" Ciancaglini and other known Philadelphia crime family members in Florida, a violation of his parole.
In September 2012 the Miami Herald reported that Merlino currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida. In an article released in April 2013 by George Anastasia, Joey 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, "Too many rats" and, "I want no part of that".
On August 4, 2016, Merlino was arrested at his home in Florida on warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Merlino is accused of entering into illegal business arrangements with New York area organized crime figures. In Florida, Merlino, along with eight others face charges of operating a massive medical insurance fraud scam. On August 12, Merlino was released on a $5 million bond.
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