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 various front and acting bosses, and is said to have led it primarily in extortion, bookmaking, drug trafficking, and loan sharking.
Family mob ties
Joseph Salvatore Merlino is the son of Italian-American parents Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (born 1939) and Rita (born 1942). Joey was raised in Southwest Philadelphia and Ventnor City, New Jersey with his two brothers. 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 to 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 of 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, 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.
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, Stanfa’s son Joseph Stanfa was shot in the face in a daring rush hour drive-by shooting on the Schuylkill Expressway, but survived.
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 convicted to several life sentences for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violations in March 1994, and Ralph Natale, subsequently jailed in June 1998, and Merlino allegedly took over upon getting out of jail in November 1994. It became apparent later that Merlino was really the power, merely using Natale as a figurehead. New York gangsters offered the position to Merlino and he turned it down. Merlino believed that the FBI would target the boss of the crime family more than any other member.
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 known as the 10th and Oregon crew situated in South Philadelphia (from 10th Street South and West Oregon Avenue, also known as the 10th and O gang), 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 he conspired with the Boston mob to purchase and distribute cocaine. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison on December 3, 2001, on racketeering charges, including extortion and illegal gambling. He was then acquitted of murder charges, attempted murder, and drug dealing. "Ain't bad," Merlino said. "Better than the death penalty."
In March 2004 a federal jury acquitted him 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. After Merlino's conviction, Joseph Ligambi became the acting boss of the Philadelphia crime family, although recent developments suggest the FBI believes Merlino remained the official boss all along.
Merlino was imprisoned at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was released from prison on March 15, 2011. He was transferred to a halfway house in Florida and was off of supervised release in 2015.
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". However, law enforcement believes he is still the boss and is using close associates to handle the day-to-day operations of the crime family.
- Brown, Julie K. (2012-10-02). "Boca Return: Is Joey Merlino back in charge?". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
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- Straight From the Horsehead's Mouth – philadelphia weekly online
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- by VERNON ODOM (March 15, 2011). "Joey Merlino leaves prison; heads to Florida". Abclocal.go.com. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
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- Joseph Merlino: The mobster next door
- The Philadelphia Crime Family
- The Philadelphia Family
- "A New Nickname, A New Mob: Philly Police Focus On Alleged Mafia Boss," 3/1/99
- State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation Report, "The Changing Face of Organized Crime in New Jersey," May 2004
- "Skinny Joey's Victory Party; Mob Scenes From an Italian Restaurant, 11/17/04