Joey Merlino

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This article is about Joseph Merlino the gangster. For the New Jersey politician, see Joseph P. Merlino.
Joseph Merlino
Born (1962-03-16) March 16, 1962 (age 55)
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] 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.[2] During the 1990s, Merlino began a mob war within the crime family and survived numerous assassination attempts.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[3] 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.[4][5][6][7]

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.[8] He is also the nephew of deceased former alleged 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 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."

Criminal activity[edit]

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.[9] In August 1984 he was barred by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission from New Jersey casinos.[10] 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.[11][12] 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.[12]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[13][14] 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.[15]

Mob wars[edit]

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.[16] In November 1993, Merlino was arrested by the FBI, charged with violation of parole, 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 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.[17]

In 1995, Merlino survived additional assassination attempts.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[18]

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.[19]

Racketeering conviction[edit]

On June 28, 1999, Merlino was indicted on charges of racketeering, murder and other crimes. 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.[20] Commenting on his conviction, "Ain't bad," Merlino said. "Better than the death penalty."[21] 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.[22]

He was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. prison on March 15, 2011.[23][24][25]He was transferred to a halfway house in Florida and was off of supervised release in 2015.[26][27] 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.[28][29][30][31]

Current status[edit]

In September 2012 the Miami Herald reported that Merlino currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida.[32] 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".[33][34]

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.[35] 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.[36]


  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. ^ "'Skinny Joey' Merlino released from prison". Laura McCrystal. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  4. ^ "Merlino's Restaurant". Merlino's. -----. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  5. ^ "Philly Mobster Merlino Now a Florida Maitre D'". Thomas Fitzgerald. NBC News Philadelphia. November 23, 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  6. ^ "Merlino's back story as big as its food". South John Tanasychuk. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  7. ^ "EXCLUSIVE — Retired Mob Boss "Skinny" Joey Merlino to Open Restaurant in Boca Raton!". Jose Lambiet's Gossip Extra. Jose Lambiet. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  8. ^ McGarvey, Brendan. "Sins of the Fathers". Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  9. ^ Archived from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved March 21, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ "The Region; Casino Agency Bars 4 More Men". The New York Times. August 9, 1984. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Former 'Capo': 'I Was Underpaid'". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  12. ^ a b "Straight From the Horsehead's Mouth | Cover Story | News and Opinion | Philly Weekly". 2013-12-31. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  13. ^ Caparella, Kitty. "Recalling A Bloody Hit." Philadelphia Daily News. April 24, 2001.
  14. ^ Anastasia, George. "Mob Boss Natale Tells of 'Descent Into Hell'." Philadelphia Inquirer. March 31, 2001.
  15. ^ "The Mafia in New Jersey - La Cosa Nostra - State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 1989 Report - The Bruno/Scarfo Family". Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  16. ^ Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved June 26, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Barry, Jim. "Who's the Boss?". Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Charged With Planning Mob Hit, Reputed Gangster Slain On Street". Chicago Tribune. March 19, 1998. 
  19. ^ "Former Pagans leader Mondevergine arrested on attempted-murder charge". June 2, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  20. ^ "7 Reputed Mafia Figures Are Acquitted of Murder". The New York Times. July 21, 2001. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Mid-Atlantic: Pennsylvania: Mobster Gets 14 Years". The New York Times. December 4, 2001. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  22. ^ [1] Archived April 17, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ "Inmate Locator". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved December 5, 2009. 
  24. ^ [2][dead link]
  25. ^   by VERNON ODOM (March 15, 2011). "Joey Merlino leaves prison; heads to Florida". Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  26. ^ ""Skinny Joey" Merlino's Out of the Joint". NBC. NBC News Philadelphia. March 15, 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  27. ^ "Ex-Philly mob leader "Skinny Joey Merlino now in Florida halfway house". Press of Atlantic City. PAC. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  28. ^ "Joey Merlino, Ex-Mob Boss, Gets 4 Months For Meeting Friend". Huffington Post. Maryclaire Dale. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  29. ^ "'Skinny Joey' Merlino Reports to Federal Prison After Parole Violation". NBC. NBC News Philadelphia. January 5, 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  30. ^ "REPUTED EX-MOB BOSS JOEY MERLINO FREE AFTER 4 MONTHS IN PRISON". ABC. ABC 6 Action News. April 24, 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  31. ^ "Merlino serves all but 10 days of vacated 4-month prison sentence". Bob McGovern. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  32. ^ Brown, Julie K. (2012-09-29). "Joseph Merlino: The mobster next door". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  33. ^ "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. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Joey Merlino arrested in major mob bust". PhillyVoice. Retrieved 2016-10-05. 
  36. ^ "Reputed Philly crime boss Joey Merlino gets $5 million bond". Retrieved 2016-10-05. 

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