Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia offers a piece at PhillyVoice.com on reputed Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.
He’s dodged bombs
And ducked bullets.
In the 1990s, two mob bosses and a South Philadelphia drug kingpin targeted him for assassination.
He’s still standing … these days more often than not on a golf course in Florida.
Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino is a survivor.
And it looks as if he’s about to walk away from his latest problem with federal authorities. The conventional wisdom is that Merlino will beat the apparently flawed federal racketeering charge pending against him in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
“We got them right where we want them,” the 55-year-old mob leader has said to friends and associates.
It’s a line the charismatic mobster has used throughout his checkered career while doing battle with federal prosecutors and the FBI.
“He’s an eternal optimist,” says a former mobster who was aligned with the anti-Merlino faction of the South Philadelphia mob in the 1990s. “In that world, it’s important to be smart. But it’s better to be lucky. Joey has always had good luck.”
Maybe not always.
He’s won and lost battles with the feds, was wounded in a drive-by shooting that left one of his best friends dead and has spent about half of his adult life in jail or on probation. But he beat murder charges in two trials that could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life. And he’s clearly ahead of the game in the racketeering case that was announced with great fanfare last August by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan). That case, with Merlino and two Genovese crime family capos listed as the lead defendants, has fizzled as more details about the questionable and at times ill-advised investigation have surfaced.
Two FBI agents are targets of an internal investigation into the way a key cooperating witness was supervised, according to numerous reports coming out of New York. The Justice Department probe has been referred to obliquely by federal prosecutors in documents filed in the Southern District of New York and in more detail in a letter to the judge that, like several other documents, has been filed under seal. More important, federal prosecutors have offered plea deals to every defendant in the case, offering to drop the most serious charge – conspiracy to commit racketeering – in exchange for guilty pleas and lighter jail sentences for charges like extortion and gambling.
To date, 39 of the 46 defendants in that case have taken the government up on its offer. Several others are said to be close to reaching agreements.
But Merlino says he’s going to trial.
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