Philadelphia Mafia boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino took a huge gamble and won big yesterday when his high-profile racketeering case ended in a mistrial. After three weeks, followed by almost 30 hours of deliberations, the jury remained hopelessly deadlocked.
Merlino was among 46 members and associates of New York’s Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, and Bonanno crime families arrested in the summer of 2016 on charges that they were part of what prosecutors called the “East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise.”
They claimed Merlino was involved in several illegal gambling operations, including one that utilized a company named Costa Rican International Sportsbook in Costa Rica, and health care fraud worth $157 million in which corrupt doctors issued unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound cream that were then billed to insurers.
During the trial, prosecutors brought in several informants, former gangsters like John “JR” Rubio, who had flipped and wore a wire while talking to Merlino. Though Rubeo’s testimony didn’t hurt him in court, Rubeo’s story about Merlino having an affair with a pharmaceutical saleswoman probably did hurt him at home with his wife, who left the courtroom in shock.
It took guts to take the government to trial, but it is befitting of Merlino’s attitude that he did. 44 other mobsters took plea deals instead. One Genovese crime family capo even had his case severed from Merlino’s after he refused to stand trial alongside the flamboyant mob boss.
Merlino couldn’t care less. “We got a good shot,” he told FOX 29 before his trial began. Such confidence, even if it’s an act, is rare among today’s Mafia kingpins. Confronted with turncoats and enhanced surveillance tactics by the feds, many of them are fearful to fight the government in court.
Released from prison in 2011 after serving over 15 years for racketeering, Merlino settled in Boca Raton, Florida, far away from his old stomping grounds in South Philadelphia. Sporting a chiseled physique, he went out, partying with women, and hanging around in the sun. He got involved in the restaurant business for a while, but questions remained about his alleged ties to the Mafia back in Philly.
This mistrial doesn’t give us a definite answer to the question about his mob connections. Was he lucky? Is the government’s current crop of turncoats a bit too dirty for the jury’s taste? Whatever it was, the media and public will monitor “Skinny Joey” as he continues living not just like a boss, but as someone who at one point grabbed that official crown, only to distance himself from it as the cost became too much to bear.
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