Message to Skinny Joey: Next Time You Greet a Juror, SMILE!

Jurors for Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino's federal racketeering trial in Manhattan have yet to reach a verdict.

Joseph Merlino
Merlino will either walk out of court a free man or go straight to a cell.

Last Thursday, they communicated to Federal Judge Richard Sullivan that they were deadlocked. Sullivan wasn't ready to spike the case by declaring a mistrial. Rather, he told them to continue and mentioned he might deliver an “Allen charge," an instruction to prevent a hung jury by encouraging jurors in the minority to reconsider.

The previous day, jurors deliberated for almost six hours and requested to listen again to eight tapes.

They also asked for the definition of conspiracy. Several requirements must be met to meet the definition of a criminal conspiracy. It's not enough to prove that two or more people together planned to commit a crime.

Read more about criminal conspiracy.

One source believes Merlino has a good shot at beating the case. Former Gambino capo Michael DiLeonardo, who is well-acquainted with the workings of major federal racketeering trials, said that jurors today are generally more educated and savvier than they were about 15 years ago. In addition, there's strong "anti-government sentiment out there today. You can see it. Faith in the government is at its lowest point ever. Guys who should've been slammed (with long prison terms) are walking out."

Merlino is the first and only person charged in this case to go to trial. Forty-six were arrested and indicted in August of 2016. The alleged wiseguys (capos, soldiers, associates--and Merlino, alleged Philadelphia boss) were accused of belonging to an organized crime network that committed a "multitude of criminal activities throughout the East Coast," from Springfield, Mass., to South Florida. The criminal entity was comprised of mobsters from the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, and Bonanno crime families.

Merlino is charged with being one of a trio of bosses who ran this criminal confederation. The other two are Genovese capo Eugene (Rooster) Onofrio, who like Merlino, also declined a plea offer, and Genovese capo Pasquale (Patsy) Parrello, 72, who accepted a plea deal to for reduced charges, as did every other defendant.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor vilified Merlino as a greedy gangster who leeched fraudulent pain cream prescriptions for $1,500 a tube.“The evidence is clear,” Manhattan Assistant US Attorney Lauren Schorr said. Merlino was part of an "organized crime enterprise” that schemed with crooked patients, doctors, and pharmaceutical sales workers.

Defense lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. attacked the credibility of three turncoats who testified against Merlino. The key witness, former Genovese associate John “Junior” Rubeo, who flipped after the feds busted him on cocaine charges, earlier in the trial let it slip that Merlino had a goomah, a girlfriend.

Rubeo mentioned Merlino’s affair during cross-examination of testimony about an unidentified pharmaceutical saleswoman in an insurance-fraud scam that Merlino allegedly ran. Rubeo unexpectedly blurted out, “Listen, he got caught sleeping with her.”

Deborah Merlino, Joey Merlino's wife
Deborah Merlino

Merlino, who is extremely savvy in how he conducts himself on the street, nevertheless made what some describe as a blunder when he greeted a juror by name outside the courtroom, as the woman told the New York Post.

She was waiting for an elevator when Merlino spoke to her. "Asked to describe Merlino’s approach, the juror said, “he just said, ‘Hi, Sylvia,’ and I just turned my head, like, ‘Some nerve.’ ”

The juror, whose last name was withheld by The Post, said she didn’t respond to Merlino or anyone with him.

“There was some people. I guess his crew. I’m saying ‘crew’ because I don’t know what else to say, his crew that was all over that side, I guess waiting for somebody to come out or something,” she said.

When the judge asked if the incident would affect her ability to be fair and impartial to the defendant, she said, “No, not at all.”

Back in the courtroom, Sullivan read Merlino the riot act.

Ironically, when Michael DiLeonardo was on trial in Atlanta -- "you inna babble-belt now," he was told -- for the Gold Club strip club case, Merlino was on trial in Philadelphia.

DiLeonardo and Merlino exchanged "good luck" messages.

During the Atlanta trial, DiLeonardo also greeted jurors by name, among many, many other things.

The Gold Club case is extraordinary and should be studied in law schools around the world.

DiLeonardo launched what can only be described as a full-fledged charm offensive to win the hearts and minds (and souls) of the jury. He was acquitted in a case that could've put him away for 70 years. (Though of course later on, when he defected, he admitted he was guilty.)

The Gold Club trial generated huge media coverage. (See story, which includes PDFs of related legal documents.)

In November of 1999, Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan was indicted on federal racketeering charges, including credit-card fraud, prostitution, money laundering, police corruption and even inappropriate ties to the powerful Gambino crime family.

Named with Michael in the indictment: Larry Gleit (the GC’s chief financial officer); Roy Cicola and Norbert Calder (former GC managers); Reginald Burney (a retired police officer allegedly on Kaplan’s payroll); and Jacklyn “Diva” Bush (a former GC stripper and alleged prostitute; she since wrote a book.)

Book about The Gold Club.

When the trial kicked off, the prosecution argued that Kaplan had assumed control of the club in 1994 "and basically turned it into the Bada Bing — encouraging lesbian sex acts, offering free sex to special customers, condoning drug use, bribing local policemen (with money and sexual favors) and buying himself protection from the Gambino crime family — while skimming millions from unreported tips and unreported revenue."Read all about it in the idiot’s Guide to Gold Club Trial. The trial made number 13 of The 50 Craziest Sex Scandals in Sports History.

But the point is that the jury "developed an unusual empathy for the defendants and their lawyers." One juror even nicknamed the defense team "The Magnificent Seven."

According to February 2009 Daily Report Online:

The four-month trial played out in a small, crowded courtroom amid international publicity, jurors say they began to feel as if they knew the defendants, their wives, mothers and sisters who came to court day after day, as well as the judge, lawyers and the media.

This feeling of intimacy was built not so much on conversation as it was on appearances, on the impressions left by small courtesies witnessed, and by casual remarks that were either exchanged or overheard. Some of those unofficial contacts pushed the limits of court rules that bar all contact with jurors.

During the trial, defendant Michael DiLeonardo would occasionally glance at jurors and smile and wink, jurors say. Kaplan once talked politely with two of the jurors during a lunch break at a downtown Subway restaurant. After the trial, six jurors felt comfortable enough to join DiLeonardo, Kaplan, other defendants and their lawyers at a victory party at Maggiano's in Buckhead.

For months, some jurors continued to stay in contact with DiLeonardo and were his guests at subsequent dinners in Atlanta, one at an upscale Brazilian restaurant the night before Kaplan was sentenced....  Assistant U.S. Attorney Arthur W. Leach, who prosecuted the case, says that in 20 years as a federal prosecutor, he has never seen a jury ally so closely with a defendant. The degree to which the jury came in contact with defendants in the court, in the halls, in the elevators and in the basement cafeteria always concerned him as potentially improper. His formal protests to the judge, he says, were ignored. Leach says he didn't know during the trial that DiLeonardo winked at jurors or of the casual exchanges outside the courtroom with Kaplan.