Skinny Joey Merlino Is a Degenerate Gambler, Not a Mob Boss, Says Attorney

The East Coast LCN Enterprise Case finally reached court this week with the Manhattan premiere of the federal racketeering trial of Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino.
Joseph Skinny Joey Merlino in a court appearance
Joseph Merlino isn't a crook, he's a degenerate gambler, his lawyer said.

Merlino, 55, was among the 46 defendants arrested in the summer of 2016 Mafia crackdown of an alleged confederation of criminals focused on extortion, loan-sharking, gambling, credit card fraud, and health care fraud.

Dubbed the East Coast LCN Enterprise, the ring operated in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Jersey, comprised of mobsters connected to the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno, and Philadelphia crime families, though the Philly family's participation is limited to Merlino, actually a Floridian.

Skinny Joey Merlino played a key role overseeing an alleged $157 million health-care scheme that involved bribing doctors to write prescriptions for pain cream, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Nicholas this week.

Merlino also sought to collect gambling debts—and worried about “rats.” Jurors were told they’d hear recordings of Merlino discussing whether some of the men around him could be trusted (one of the men around him, John JR Rubeo, was wired at the time.)

Merlino defense attorney Edwin Jacobs' opening remarks described how Merlino -- not a criminal, a degenerate gambler -- was put in the case by cooperators with reasons to lie by over-eagger investigators.

Based on defense filings, Merlino's attorneys also will seek to depict the case as sorely lacking in evidence.

On top of that, defense attorneys will certainly highlight allegations that two key FBI agents involved in the yearslong probe were so eager to make arrests, they failed to file reports about meetings and deleted some text messages from Rubeo that should've been saved.

And since a judge ruled in the defense's favor, Merlino's attorneys will be aggressively asking the agents all about that, as well as the internal probe the two agents were subjected to.

Prosecutors have said the agents had accidentally forgot to follow protocol.

Merlino rejected a plea offer last summer that carried less than two years in prison. If he loses this trial, Skinny Joey could face up to 20 years in prison.

Merlino and two Genovese crime family capos – Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, 73, of the Bronx, N.Y., and Eugene Onofrio, 75, of East Haven, Conn., allegedly ran the East Coast LCN crime ring, which Merlino's attorneys argue is a fictional creation.

Onofrio’s trial was postponed indefinitely, due to undisclosed health concerns.

Merlino seemed to be heading down a similar path earlier this month when hospitalized for heart blockages that delayed the trial two weeks.

Greatest Hits from the Transcripts

“He’s fasting. Since … Sunday, he hasn’t eaten,” says an alleged gangster of Merlino in a secretly recorded 2013 conversation.

Merlino’s driver, Brad Sirkin, responded: “But he don’t weigh nothing. He’s fasting since Sunday? … On purpose?”

Here's a seemingly highly incriminating transcript of a  recording of Merlino that was widely written about, with the other half of the statement, which wasn't so widely written about:

“It’s easy to kill somebody,” Merlino opined to two alleged associates in a 2014 conversation. “I can tell you, ‘Listen, drive me home right now,’ get in the car and … shoot you in the … head.”

But, Merlino continued: 

“It’s better when you save a friend. I would never put nobody in harm’s way. And we’re all friends here.”

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