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 He became the effective boss of the criminal organization in the mid nighties after he allegedly fought a war for control. He led the crime family in gambling, loan sharking and extortion. In comparison to other traditional mob bosses who shunned the limelight, Merlino interacted regularly with 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. 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.
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 Philadelphia crime family mobster Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino.
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 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 from his position as underboss to 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. Along with his longtime buddies and futures mobsters, 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. The younger Scarfo was shot several times with a MAC 10, but was not hit in any vital organs and eventually recoverded. No one was ever arrested for the attempted murder, but local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believe Merlino carried out the shooting to settle a score between the Scarfos and Merlinos and to show that the Scarfos had no more control of the Philadelphia crime family.
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 Michael Cianglini, Steven Mazzone, George Borgesi and Martin Angelina as Merlino associates and co-conspirators in the take-over plan. He was released from prison in April 1992.
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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, but 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 being shot in the jaw.
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, allowing Natale to become boss to direct law enforcement attention away from himself.
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.
Merlino was friends with now incarcerated him Steve "Gorilla" Mondevergine, boss of the Pagans MC motorcycle gang. The relationship added flamboyance to Merlino’s persona, but there is no evidence that he utilized the Pagans to help settle underworld disputes.
On June 28, 1999, Merlino was indicted on drug trafficking charges. The charges were later expanded to include racketeering and orchestrating five murders. On July 20, 2002 Merlino, while being acquitted on all murder and drug trafficking charges, was convicted of racketeering, gambling, extortion and receiving stolen property. On December 3, 2001 he received a 14-year sentence. 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 on March 15, 2011.He was transferred to a halfway house in Florida and was off of supervised release in 2015. Just before his parole restictions expired, Merlino was handed four months in a Miami prison for meeting with Johnny "Chang" Ciancaglini and other known organized crime figures 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 a 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 is accused of taking part in a medical fraud scheme that made $157 million by prescribing patients with unnecessary (and ineffective) medical treatments and billing patients' insurance companies. On August 12, Merlino was released on a $5 million bond.
Almost all those charged accepted favorable plea agreements and pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Merlino has refused any plea offer and is scheduled to go to trial in January 2018. However, the charges against Merlino may get dropped due to improper handling of an undercover informant by FBI investigators in the case.
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