Veteran organized crime reporter and author George Anastasia offers a piece on Joseph Merlino’s racketeering trial in New York for PhillyVoice.com.
Philadelphia’s only celebrity gangster, Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, goes on trial this week in federal court in Manhattan for racketeering and conspiracy charges that could land him in jail for a good part of the rest of his life.
He’s been there before.
But this time the stakes seem even higher.
Merlino is 55 and has spent about a third of his adult life in jail or on supervised release. He has two daughters in college who have grown up for the most part without him. And he was recently treated for a heart condition – “two significant blockages,” according to a court document – that belie his devil-may-care attitude.
Yet Merlino has rejected plea deals that could have resulted in a prison sentence of two to three years.
“He’s not pleading guilty,” said a close associate. “He says he hasn’t done anything wrong.”
What’s more, that associate and others familiar with Merlino’s thinking say the flamboyant South Philly mobster who now makes his home in Boca Raton, Florida, sees the trial as a chance to hold federal law enforcement accountable for actions that border on criminal.
“If I had done what they did, I’d be indicted,” Merlino has reportedly told friends while explaining why he refused to take a plea deal.
Jury selection begins Monday morning in the federal courthouse on Pearl Street in Manhattan. The trial is expected to last about a month.
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