Deborah Merlino Certainly Doesn't Exemplify the Stereotypical Mob Wife

The biggest bombshell in  Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino's federal racketeering trial in Manhattan arguably had nothing to do with any of the crimes listed in the indictment.

We love gossip, especially gossip about extramarital affairs.

Skinny Joey with wife Deborah

Consider that the main charge facing Merlino is his alleged involvement "in a scheme targeting providers of health insurance by causing, and causing others to cause, corrupt doctors to issue unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound cream that were then billed to the Victim Insurers."

Who really cares about poor victimized insurance companies? 

USA Today recently profiled some of the most-reviled companies in the United States, and wouldn't you know: "Few industries are as widely detested as the insurance industry." (FYI, "American consumers appear to especially dislike health insurance giant Cigna.")

Genovese turncoat John (JR) Rubeo, on cross-examination, revealed that an extramarital affair had taken place between Merlino and an unidentified pharmaceutical saleswoman. Rubeo mentioned the alleged affair during testimony about an insurance-fraud scam Merlino allegedly ran.

Under questioning by Merlino's defense attorney, Rubeo blurted, “Listen, he got caught sleeping with her. He ended the relationship with her. It was his connection. He said, ‘She sends things to my house, my wife is going to find out,’ ” Rubeo added.

Defense lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr., apparently inexplicably compelled to both stretch the moment out and underline it, then asked Rubeo, “So now you are telling us that Joey slept with this rep?”

“Yes, that’s what he told me."

Sitting among the spectators was Deborah Merlino. She reportedly was scowling at Rubeo as he spoke on the stand. However, when the turncoat mentioned the goomah, the entire courtroom reacted to the news, with Merlino’s friends and family members gasping. And Deborah reportedly evidenced shock at the news.

The court took a break shortly thereafter and Deborah, visibly agitated, slowly walked outside the courtroom with Joey and the couple huddled together, speaking quietly and intently. Husky gentlemen wearing suits shielded them from any curious passersby.

Merlino later approached a reporter on the street and fruitlessly attempted to mitigate the impact of Rubeo's words: “Don’t put the girl in," he asked the reporter.

Rubeo's testimony had a larger implication in that Merlino's attorneys opted not to put Deborah on the stand to testify. Deborah Merlino had been listed as a potential witness. But instead of calling her, the defense rested its case. Joey and Deborah denied that Rubeo's remarks had anything to do with Deborah's decision not to testify. .

Deborah Merlino is far from the stereotypical mob wife, however.  And, her apparent shock notwithstanding, the couple have been down this road before. Only then, it was Deborah in the hotseat, grilled by accusations of infidelity with an NFL player while Joey was in prison.

In 2001, a jury acquitted Merlino and six co-defendants of three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder but convicted him of lesser racketeering charges and he was given 12 years in prison. He was paroled in 2011.

 In October 2003 when Skinny Joey was safely ensconced in a prison cell, Deborah allegedly had "a secret affair with a New York football player," the NY Post reported. The affair resulted in Deborah aborting her "lover's" baby. So said peg-leg drug dealer/murderer William Rinick, who testified that he drove Deborah Merlino to Maryland in October 2001 to undergo the abortion.

(Rinick shouldn't be viewed as the most reliable source, as Deborah had testified against him. And as Gossip Extra recently noted: The prosecutor claimed Rinick himself may have had the affair with Deborah. As will shortly be revealed, he was found in a somewhat compromising position.)

Deborah was spotted with Rinick almost immediately after Merlino went away. 

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office was investigating drug trafficking and the murder of an alleged member of a drug-trafficking ring. On December 6, five weeks after the murder and three days after Joey was sentenced, a taskforce consisting of state drug agents and city homicide and drug officers raided the Merlino home early one morning. Hiding under the bed of one of Joey’s two daughters, was Rinick, wearing only his underwear.

William "Billy" Rinick had lost a leg several years prior in a car accident. The day of the raid, he lost his leg again, his prosthetic leg, which police said they spotted upon their arrival, lying on the ground.

Rinick was a wealthy South Philadelphia resident known to be a real estate mogul and suspected of being boss of a major drug-trafficking operation. At the time, law enforcement sources alleged that Rinick’s organization moved 30 kilograms of cocaine a week.

Some sources have claimed that the entire event had been carefully staged by law enforcement sources. Possible motives:  embarrass Deborah Merlino, scare Rinick into flipping.

Friends of Deborah Merlino denied any improper relationship. "Billy is a close friend of the family, and he is Deborah’s bodyguard," they told City Paper. (Come to think of it, if he left his prosthetic leg in one room, what the hell did he do? Hop into the bedroom? But then again, they really didn't need to stage anything as the unit's surveillance told a quite detailed story, revealing "that Rinick’s car had been parked several times overnight outside the Merlino home. In addition, state drug agents had once followed Billy and Deborah to Maryland, recording the trip on videotape," as Rick Porello's American Mafia website noted.)

If that wasn't enough, one week later, in December 2001, Deborah showed up at a Christmas party thrown by Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi, boss of the Philadelphia crime family after Merlino went off to prison.

The now-defunct CityPaper published a story headlined: Debbie Did Who?

Joey Merlino’s wife showed up at a mob party and was the center of attention.

Reputed mob boss "Uncle Joe" Ligambi threw a party last Sunday night at Colleen’s Restaurant on the Ben Franklin Parkway. "It was a mob scene," one partygoer told City Paper. "A lot of reputed and alleged types. But the talk of the party was Deborah Merlino and the raid on her house last week."

One source who was at the party told it like this:

"There’s two different groups of people now. Those that say they believe Billy was just Deborah’s bodyguard, and those that think there’s something more going on between them. Either way, everybody thinks its pretty embarrassing. Why was the one-legged bodyguard hiding under the bed? Why was he involving Joey’s wife in anything that would bring the cops to her house? He has a lot of questions to answer, and nobody really believes him."

Said another mob source said, "Deborah has always been a little bit of a princess. She was kind of a little apart from everybody else, and it’s surprising that she would be friends with a guy like Billy Rinick. Rinick is not a very classy guy."

According to police sources, Rinick, who was convicted of having sex with two underage girls, often videotaped his sexual encounters, and some very embarrassing "sex tapes" are said to exist that document Rinick’s most recent encounters.

Merlino’s friends are united in their support of Joey Merlino, but divided in what they believe about Deborah’s situation.

Deborah in Boca Raton.
One longtime Merlino pal said, "This has got to be killing Joey. He is all about reputation and appearance. Whether she was fooling around with Billy or not, the appearance is so bad. And that guy Billy, he’s already dead. He just doesn’t know it yet."

Rinick’s revelation came at his trial for a Halloween murder committed just hours after he drove Deborah Merlino home. Rinick was on trial in October 2003, charged with the October 2001 murder of Adam Finelli, one of his partners in the drug business. The motive for the murder is exasperatingly detailed.

On the night of October 30, Billy and a third partner in his drug business, Michael Focoso, were driving around when they spotted Finelli in his SUV. Rinick followed Finelli home and asked Finelli to drive him and his partner, to "a pal’s" house who Rinick claimed owed him money. Rinick climbed into the backseat, while Focoso sat on the front passenger seat.

Shortly after midnight, three men arrived at their destination, Jackson Street near 18th. Finelli double-parked the SUV. Focoso later testified to having heard several gunshots, "four, five, six…I was stunned. I didn’t know what happened. All I can hear was the slide going back on the gun. I was numb. I didn’t know if I was shot or anyone else…" He saw Finelli slumped over dead.

"Come on, Bo," Rinick yelled. "You going to let him drive? He’s not driving anywhere."

The football player was never named.

Prosecutors accused the drug dealer of lying to try and settle a score with Deborah and would have said anything to avoid the death sentence. He was convicted of murder and jailed for life.