Bada-Bing! Joey Merlino Arrested By Feds in Massive Mob Bust
Not that you asked, but as of a couple of weeks ago, everything was A-OK in Joey Merlino’s world.
“He was doing absolutely great,” said Edwin Jacobs, Merlino’s longtime attorney. The two men got together for a few hours recently with some friends, just to catch up and shoot the shit.
“He’s got grown kids in college, and he and his wife have a wonderful life in Florida,” Jacobs said over the phone, from his office in Atlantic City. “He was doing fine, until this.”
This would be the massive federal racketeering conspiracy indictment that led to the arrests of Merlino, the former head of Philly’s mob, and 45 other alleged members of La Cosa Nostra on Thursday, shaking up mob operations from one end of the East Coast to another.
The indictment (below), which was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, sketches out a sprawling collaboration between the infamous Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, and Bonnano families of New York, and members of the mob in Philly, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida.
They were allegedly up to their old tricks — loansharking, gambling, credit card fraud, firearms trafficking, some beatdowns here and shakedowns there. But where does Merlino, 54, fit in all of this?
According to the indictment, Merlino, Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello (of the Genovese family), and Eugene “Rooster” O’Nofrio “supervised and controlled members of the Enterprise engaged in illegal schemes, including those that were the objects of the conspiracy.” Leaders and members of various families allegedly met with Merlino, Parrello and O’Nofrio to hash out their various plans, sometimes at restaurants and highway restaurants, authorities allege.
(Speaking of restaurants, you might recall that Merlino worked for a little while as a maitre’d at a restaurant in Boca Raton that bore his name.)
Elsewhere in the indictment, Merlino is accused, along with other members of the mob, of being involved in a sports gambling business in Costa Rica called “Costa Rican International Sportsbook” and other illegal sports gambling operations in Florida, New Jersey and New York.
The authorities also accuse Merlino of taking part in an odd little bit of healthcare fraud: Getting “corrupt doctors to issue unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound cream that were then billed” to various unwitting insurance companies.
Jacobs was left a little puzzled by the indictment. “All I can tell you at this point is, I’ve seen a lot of racketeering indictments, and they’re usually fact- and date-specific. This one is not,” he said. “It’s also very short on any allegations of violence, which most prosecutors claim is the foundation of organized crime. You read this indictment, and you don’t find so much as a single cinder block.”
Actually, the feds do allude to a number of violent encounters, including one anecdote about instructions Parrello gave on how to collect a gambling debt that was owed: “You get Buddy [Torres] and let Buddy go there and choke him [Victim-1], choke him. I want Buddy to choke him, choke him, actually choke the motherfucker … and tell him, ‘Listen to me … next time, I’m not gonna stop choking … I’m gonna kill you.”
The mob takedown is the product of a long-running investigation that involved the FBI, the FBI-NYPD Organized Crime Task Force, the West Chester County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A cooperating witness and an undercover FBI agent amassed thousands of hours of recordings of mafia members, authorities said.
“The indictment reads like an old school mafia novel, where extortion, illegal gambling, arson and threats to ‘whack’ someone are carried out along with some modern-day crimes of credit card skimming,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement.
If convicted, Merlino could face up to 20 years in prison. As former Inquirer reporter George Anastasia noted in a story for PhillyVoice, Merlino has spent more than half his adult life behind bars. A racketeering conviction in 2001 netted him a 14-year sentence, of which he served about 12 years. Merlino was ordered to serve an additional four months in 2014 for violating the terms of his release by meeting with former Philly mob captain John “Johnny Chang” Ciancaglini. Merlino also had an earlier conviction for an armored truck heist, Anastasia noted.
Jacobs said the indictment was too broad and general to draw any conclusions about what it could ultimately mean for Merlino’s future. “Many times when you read these indictments, it’s sort of a script for the trial. This is not even an outline. It names a lot of people, and a lot of criminal statutes … but there’s not much meat on these bones.”
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