Philadelphia Mob Boss Merlino Gets Two-Year Prison Sentence

Alleged Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Merlino was hit with two years in prison for illegal gambling yesterday.

A beaming Merlino voiced Donald Trump-like platitudes.

Of the three men identified as alleged bosses in this case, Merlino was the winner, getting the lightest prison sentence. Alleged Genovese capos Eugene (Rooster) Onofrio and Pasquale (Patsy) Parrello were the other two alleged leaders of the East Coast LCN Enterprise.

A case once presented as a nefarious, multifaceted criminal enterprise that spanned the East Coast of America involving dozens of mobsters from several crime families speedily had steadily devolved into an embarrassment for the Fed's.

Two years was the stiffest possible penalty for Merlino, who plead guilty to a single count instead of facing a retrial on a litany of other charges. 

And while U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan said he did not believe that Merlino was still the boss of the Philadelphia crime family, he still sought to persuade Merlino to abandon his penchant for criminal conduct.

“Mr. Merlino, enough,” Sullivan said. “Let’s move on.”

The flashy Philadelphia mobster has survived assassination attempts, beaten murder charges in court, and spent more than a decade locked up for earlier convictions for racketeering, conspiracy, assault and other offenses.

In August 2016, the indictment alleged that 46 defendants were involved in an “East Coast LCN Enterprise” or a "sprawling and long-running racketeering conspiracy composed of leaders, members, and associates of the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese, Bonanno, and Philadelphia Organized Crime Families of La Cosa Nostra, who worked together to engage in a multitude of criminal activities throughout the East Coast of the United States between Springfield, Massachusetts, and Southern Florida. "

The Enterprise allegedly engaged in a multitude of criminal activities. Members of the Enterprise wee charged with gambling, extortionate collection of loans, other extortion activities, arson, conspiracies to commit assaults in aid of racketeering, trafficking in unstamped and cigarettes, gun trafficking, access device fraud, and health care fraud."

During the August 2016 arrests, law enforcement officers recovered, among other items, three handguns, a shotgun, gambling paraphernalia, and more than $30,000 in cash.

Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: “Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country."

One year after the arrests serious flaws were spotlighted.  John (J.R.) Rubeo Jr., who deleted text messages in evidence, was a less-than-ideal witness. Soon the Feds were dropping the indictment's top charges and pushing "for plea deals in the massive eight-month-old case." According to Gang Land News sources, "the veteran Mafiosi, and many others, will slide on racketeering conspiracy charges that carry longer sentences. Instead, they will be allowed to cop pleas to the substantive crimes they are charged with, like gambling, extortion, and health care fraud."
One of the alleged mobsters arrested in the East Coast LCN Enterprise case.

Then it was reported that an internal FBI inquiry was examining "potential wrongdoing by three veteran New York agents." The agents allegedly "hid investigative reports and tape recordings made by (Rubio) to keep the information from other FBI field offices, " as Gang Land reported.

Reports described Merlino's sentencing on October 17 as raucous with a Merlino supporter shouting that the judge was “a rat bastard.”

Merlino pleaded guilty in April to one count of running an illegal gambling business after a jury deadlocked on much more serious racketeering charges.

Judge Richard Sullivan noted, “I certainly would have given you more than 24 (months), this is not a bad deal,” Sullivan said. He also credited Merlino’s attorneys for their defense.

Merlino said afterward that he planned to use his prison stint lifting weights and getting in shape. (One wiseguy source we spoke to prior to his incarceration told us he was going to use his bid quitting cigarettes.)

And, in an apparent quip to the witnesses who had testified against him, Merlino blurted: “President Trump is right — they’ve got to outlaw the flippers.”

Merlino insisted that he had turned in his button in 2011, when he departed prison and  relocated with his family to Boca Raton.

Nearly every defendant in the East Coast LCN Enterprise case pleaded guilty before trial. The holdouts included Merlino and some die-hard members of the Genovese crime family's Springfield crew.

Earlier this year, the judge declared a mistrial after jurors reported being hopelessly deadlocked. Then, two months later, Merlino decided to plead guilty to a single gambling count instead of facing a retrial. It was the brash mobster's first time for this: Merlino had never before admitted to criminal conduct in court.

Edwin J. Jacobs Jr., Merlino’s lawyer, said in April that the plea was prudent because Merlino faced a much longer prison sentence if convicted at a retrial.

In court documents, prosecutors asked Sullivan to impose the full two-year prison term against Merlino, citing his extensive criminal history and his "continuing indifference to obeying the law."

In sentencing memos, they wrote that “the experience of standing trial twice for murder did not sufficiently discourage him from engaging in illegal activity.”

Jacobs, meanwhile, asked Sullivan to impose a sentence of house arrest. And he requested that any prison sentence be reduced by four months to account for the time Merlino spent behind bars in 2014, when a federal judge in Philadelphia ordered Merlino jailed for violating his probation by socializing with a purported mob associate at a Boca Raton cigar bar.

An appellate court eventually overturned that ruling, freeing Merlino just 10 days before his jail term was to have ended.

During the proceedings Wednesday, the judge noted that two years of incarceration was a good deal for him, adding that convincing evidence of Merlino's guilt had been presented at trial.

Merlino’s supporters complained in court that Sullivan’s “lengthy rundown” of the mobster’s past was “for show.”

“It’s all bullsh—,” the unidentified man said. “Rat bastard.”

Sullivan spoke directly to him: “Do you want to take over? Is there something you want to say? It’s unfortunate people here think they can take over the proceeding.”

The judge then tried to sic court marshals on him but he departed before they arrived.

When approached for comment the man declined and smoked a cigarette outside the courthouse.

Merlino’s attorney, Edwin Jacobs, had argued that Merlino had been hoodwinked into the pain cream probe by gangland snitch John (Junior) Rubeo.

Sullivan had commented during the proceedings that Merlino was “a player” — but whether he was the head of the Philly mob remained an open question.

When Merlino left the courthouse puffing on a cigarette, another supporter called reporters “vultures” and told them to “get a real job.”

Merlino held out the longest and got the shortest sentence.

Alleged Genovese capo Pasquale (Patsy) Parrello copped last year----and got about three-plus times Merlino’s sentence.

In September 2017, the very same judge blasted Parello and sentenced him to seven years in prison — saying he should have avoided the mob if he didn't want to die in prison.

“There’s a long history of capos who have died

in prison,” Judge Sullivan coldly told the 73-year-old wiseguy beore handing down the sentence — which caused the people packing the courtroom to emit an audible gasp.

“You must have understood this, you had 88 months to think about it before,” he added.

Genovese Crime Family's Springfield Crew
In late July, the boss of the Genovese crime family’s Springfield crew, Eugene "Rooster" Onofrio, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in the so-called East Coast LCN Enterprise case.
Eugene "Rooster" Onofrio

Onofrio, during a 2014 recorded call, had referred to himself as "the skipper" of Springfield -- meaning the crew's capo.

Springfield "was given to him" he added, though he never named by who. It is likely that he took over the crew sometime after 2011, when former Springfield chief Arthur Nigro -- who ran Springfield from the Bronx and had also been a Genovese family acting boss -- was sent away to prison for murder. Nigro had given the nod for Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno to be removed from his position running the Genovese family's Springfield crew (as well as life on this earth).

Onofrio also said that he had "four or five guys" in Springfield -- and that he'd planned to sponsor one more for formal induction into the Genovese crime family. He didn't identify the associate either. (It's likely Ralph Santaniello.)

Onofrio was among 45 mobsters bagged in part by the wire-wearing Rubeo, who was frequently with a man who was really an undercover FBI agent pretending to be JR's old high school buddy.

Onofrio was ordered to begin serving his sentence in September, according to court records.

The aging Genovese capo's defense strategy was as simple as it was ineffective.

Rooster's attorney argued that his client was merely a senior citizen living a "modest life" and supplementing his fixed income "by making extortionate loans, accepting "tribute" from gangster underlings and selling untaxed cigarettes," as MassLive recently reported. (And those happened to be the crimes to which Onofrio pleaded guilty on Feb, 28, 2018, in federal court in Manhattan. He was sentenced on July 19.)

New York federal judge Richard Sullivan rejected that argument. In a letter the judge read, Onofrio said he was eking out a living by collecting disability for the past 15 years. Everything was just fine and dandy. Then turncoat John "JR" Rubeo ensnared him in what turned out to be a five-year FBI-run undercover probe.

Onofrio, 76, in his letter, wrote to the judge: "In 2013 I met Mr, Rubio (sic) and we spent a considerable amount of time together. During this time he suggested several opportunities for financial gain with me. Given my age and living on such a fixed income I saw this as my last opportunity for financial gain unfortunately took it and made some bad judgement calls,"

He expressed regrets to the judge, seeking a 20-month sentence in home confinement.

The undercover FBI agent drove Onofrio around for a while, including one time to a pizza shop in Chicopee, where he arranged for a $30,000 loan with help from Springfield wiseguys Ralph Santaniello, allegedly the crew's street boss, and Francesco "Frank" Depergola.

Santaniello punched a tow truck operator in the face at their initial meeting and told him he was dealing with the boss of the "Springfield Crew," referring to himself, which had "New York" behind it.

Santaniello and Depergola were also arrested in August 2016 and were convicted of extorting that tow truck company operator. The two are serving 60- and 38-month sentences, respectively. Santaniello is at a federal penitentiary at Schuykill in Minersville, Pennsylvania. and Depergola is at a low-security facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey, as per the BOP inmate locator site.
Ralph Santaniello, allegedly the Springfield crew's street boss
As per transcripts of a conversation submitted by prosecutors in advance of Onofrio's sentencing:

Onofrio: "Everything's shut down."

Rubeo: "He doesn't put anyone up."

Onofrio: "Yeah he does."

Rubeo: "Never."

Onofrio: "I do."

Rubeo: "He don't." (apparently referring to Danny Leo, a top Genovese boss)

Onofrio: "I already put a guy up from Springfield, Mass. ... You know, Springfield was given to me."

Rubeo: "Yeah, you told me."

Onofrio: "I got four, five guys up there. One I love to death."

Rubeo: "Why don't you move me up there? Can I make money?"
Onofrio: "I know he is a gangster, I know he's got balls, he's got heart. He, his name is already in. When they open up, I'm definitely putting him in, because I can't travel from New Haven to Springfield all the time.".