Paula McMahon at sun-sentinel.com offers a piece on the reputed Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family boss, Joseph Merlino (seen in the above photo), who is going to trial in New York on racketeering charges.
Reputed Mafia boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino has survived more than 25 attempts on his life and been cleared of the most serious charges — three murder raps — leveled against him over the years.
When the flamboyant Philadelphia native, who now lives in Boca Raton, goes on trial next month, he hopes to beat the feds as they try to put him back in prison for much of the rest of his life.
The current case began last year when the feds arrested 46 men up and down the East Coast on charges they said read like “an old-school Mafia novel.” The men were accused of being part of an organized crime network that involved the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno and Philadelphia major crime families. Their business included gambling, selling tax-free cigarettes and collecting illegal debts, the feds say.
Merlino, 55, and Eugene “Rooster” Onofrio, 75, of East Haven, Conn., are the only two who are going to trial. Merlino is free on a $5 million bond and his trial starts Jan. 16 in federal court in Manhattan.
He is considered a “mob star” by some because he courted media attention, regularly marched in the Philadelphia Mummers parade and made a holiday tradition of distributing turkeys to needy families.
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It’s no surprise that Merlino is going to trial, said David Fritchey, a retired federal prosecutor and former chief of organized crime for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, who helped send Merlino to prison in the past.
“That’s his personality. He’s gone to trial before and he’s dodged some legal bullets – he’s been hit but not as mortally as he could have been,” said Fritchey. “He’s the kind of guy who takes his chances.”
“But there’s a cost that comes with that kind of in-your-face criminality. It attracts the attention of law enforcement,” he said.
Fritchey said he anticipates one of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming trial will be seeing how a Manhattan jury reacts to Merlino. Though Merlino is something of a celebrity in Philadelphia and South Florida, he’s not so well known in New York City, the international capital of mob activity.
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