Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Skinny Joey Merlino back in Philadelphia for hearing on parole violation

Joey Merlino arrives at federal court this morning to answer government allegations that he violated his probation. ( YONG KIM / Staff Photographer )
JOEY MERLINO is crossing Market Street wearing a pair of oversized aviator sunglasses on an overcast day. Dark suit, dark tan.
A copious amount of gel keeps his slicked-back hair locked in place, but the orange-and-blue floral tie keeps you guessing.
You don't know whether he's going to shake your hand, punch you in the mouth or buy your family a Thanksgiving turkey.
The 30-something gangster they used to call "Skinny Joey" on Passyunk Avenue in the 1990s is now a muscular 52-year-old who actually looks like the ruthless mob boss that prosecutors have described in past indictments.
It's a remarkable transformation - the product of 12 years in prison followed by three years of Florida sun - but the timing is less than ideal.
Merlino, who has been living in Boca Raton, Fla., since he was released from prison in 2011, was back in Philadelphia yesterday to address allegations that he violated the terms of his probation in June by associating with a mobster and two convicted felons.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer told reporters that he still considers Merlino to be an active member of La Cosa Nostra - not a reformed mobster looking to get into the restaurant industry.
"I don't think Mr. Merlino has actually worked a job in a very long time, if ever," Troyer said. "I don't know him to be a maitre d' in a restaurant."
To which Merlino replied: "The guy's mental."
In court, Merlino's attorney, Edwin Jacobs Jr., presented a crafty - although outwardly ridiculous - legal argument, claiming that the feds failed to issue an official summons to Merlino prior to Sept. 6, when his probation was to have ended.
"There is no summons," Jacobs said.
One problem: It was Jacobs who caused the delay, by asking a court clerk to postpone the scheduling of a hearing date, the clerk testified. The process had been set in motion on Sept. 2.
"All right counsel, I think I understand," said U.S. District Judge Barclay Surrick, cutting Jacobs off mid-sentence when he'd finally had enough.
"It's the height of chutzpah to make this request," Troyer shot back, calling it "preposterous" that Jacobs would try to use the court's "professional courtesy" to his advantage.
Merlino's supporters, including his mother, wife and a priest, packed the courtroom. Some grumbled about what they consider decades of harassment by the federal government.
"This is your taxpayer money at work," a woman whispered.
If Surrick rules against Merlino, he'll have to return to court to address the underlying allegations - that he was caught hanging out with two felons and Philly mobster John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini at the Havana Nights Cigar Bar & Lounge in Boca Raton.
Ciancaglini, who was convicted of racketeering in 2001 alongside Merlino, was spotted yesterday on a bench directly outside the courthouse, reading the Daily News during Merlino's hearing. He was gone by the time Merlino's entourage exited the building.
Merlino, who some law enforcement officials believe still oversees mob activity here, could be thrown back in prison if he loses his latest court battle. And the feds would love nothing more than to indict him on new charges. They even wired up an informant and sent him to Florida to try to get Merlino saying something incriminating on tape.
But Merlino didn't seem particularly worried yesterday as a media scrum followed him out of the courthouse and across the street.
"I miss the Mummers parade," he quipped.
People at the bus stop recognized him. A guy at the newsstand flashed him a peace sign.
"That's Joey Merlino," said a woman outside the Dunkin' Donuts.
And then someone else said the same thing and word started to spread, and it briefly felt like 1995 all over again.



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