Skinny Joey Merlino Plead Out, Faces Notoriously Tough Sentencing Judge

Alleged Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino, after pleading guilty to an illegal betting charge last Friday, made a prediction about his hometown team's NBA playoffs.
Alleged Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino,
On Jan. 31, 2018, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino enters federal court in New York. (SOURCE)

Merlino, a degenerate gambler, as per his own attorney, told reporters outside Manhattan federal court that the Philadelphia 76ers were his pick to win the championship. (Gamblers may want to pay heed to Merlino's sports soundbites.... Before the February mistrial, Merlino had predicted, successfully, that the case would end in a "deadlock win" for him. He also offered what turned out to be a winning tip on the Super Bowl: "Oh, and bet the Eagles.")

Merlino also discussed Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill's recent release from prison, saying, "I'm glad he's at home with his family where he belongs."

Rolling Stone recently thumbnailed Meek Mill's plight as: "For 11 years, he’s lived in a judicial web with no clear means of escape. He was arrested in 2007 by a corrupt cop named Reggie Graham; convicted of gun and drug counts solely on Graham’s word; then held on probation by his nemesis, Geneice Brinkley, a judge notorious in Philly for remanding people to prison on technical violations."

In the profile, one of the rapper's first post-jail interviews, he discussed how his ordeal impacted his family, among other things. (“Five months in prison, all I did was sleep,” he told Rolling Stone. “I don’t need to rest, I need to work.”)

Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill's
Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.

The comments were voiced after Merlino plead guilty to avoid a retrial in a racketeering case that ended with a hung jury in February.

The deal calls for a prison term of up to 16 months, and he faces sentencing on Sept. 13, though U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan said that, based on Merlino's extensive criminal history, he could impose a longer sentence.

Merlino, 56, allegedly is still the boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey organized crime family, helming the organization during a bloody internal war against a faction run by one-time appointed boss John Stanfa.

Philadelphia appointed boss John Stanfa
Recent photo of John Stanfa from Mob Talk Sitdown.


Merlino said he retired from the mob for good when he moved to Florida and opened Merlino’s, his since-closed upscale Italian eatery in Boca Raton.

Merlino emerged in the 1990s as the face, and boss, of the Philadelphia mob. “He was a charismatic and well-known personality, the city’s only celebrity gangster, the John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue,” as George Anastasia noted in a story.

Merlino has been accused of orchestrating or participating in nearly a dozen gangland hits or attempted hits.

He has never been convicted, though he's been repeatedly identified (in court testimony and documents) as the shooter in the 1989 Halloween night attempted assassination of Nicky Scarfo Jr. in Dante & Luigi’s Restaurant.

To this day, no one has been charged in that shooting, which the younger Scarfo survived.

In Merlino’s 2001 racketeering case, the federal government made a deal with mob boss Ralph Natale who cooperated and testified against Merlino and six co-defendants. Merlino was known as Natale’s underboss at the time. (Yes, Federal authorities essentially made a deal with a boss to try to convict an underboss, as Anastasia noted.)

For the Feds, the prosecution was a failure. Clearly, they wanted Merlino off the streets permanently. In the end, however, he was convicted of racketeering based on charges of gambling, loansharking, and receipt of stolen property. The Feds failed to convince the jury that Merlino also was guilty of drug dealing, murder, and attempted murder.

Since his release from the 2001 conviction, except for a brief incarceration for parole violation, Merlino didn't run afoul of the law until August 2016, when he was arrested with dozens of other alleged wiseguys for the East Coast LCN Enterprise case. Prosecutors indicted the group for being a confederation of criminals who committed extortion, loan-sharking, gambling, credit card fraud, and health care fraud.

Merlino has spent about 20 years (more than half his adult life) in prison. He also was arrested in 1989 for an armored truck heist that netted the robbers $375,000, not a cent of which was ever recovered.

In 2013, Merlino joked that he lost the money in Las Vegas at the tables. That same year, he also said “the life” wasn’t worth the stress. “Too many rats,” he said. “I want no part of that.”

Pennsylvania gambling regulators moved to ban Merlino from stepping inside the state casino. In 1984, he was barred in New Jersey.