Joey Merlino: Biography Know Everything

Hello, guys, in today’s article, we’ll delve into Joey Merlino. Joey Merlino, whose full name is Joseph Salvatore Merlino and is also known as “Skinny Joey,” was born on March 13, 1962. He is an American mobster and is considered the boss of the Philadelphia crime family.

In the 1990s, after a struggle with the family’s John Stanfa faction, he seized power and gained control over the organization. Merlino has been involved in many illegal activities such as gambling, loan sharking, drug trafficking, and extortion.

Ralph Natale, who was once Merlino’s boss but later turned informant, played a significant role in assisting Merlino in several racketeering charges in 2001. These charges included fraud, illegal gambling, and extortion, leading to Merlino serving a 14-year prison sentence. However, since his release in 2011, both the FBI and organized crime analysts suspect that Merlino is still involved in running the Philadelphia-South Jersey Mafia.

On the other hand, Merlino denies these allegations, claiming to have retired from a life of crime. Currently, as of 2015, Merlino splits his time between South Florida and Philadelphia.

Early Life of Joey Merlino

Joey Merlino was born in Philadelphia on March 13, 1962, to Salvatore “Chuckie” Merlino and Rita Giordano. He grew up in Taccony, Philadelphia, and Ventnor City, New Jersey. Merlino became a government witness from a prominent criminal family in Philadelphia. He is also the nephew of Lawrence “Yogi” Merlino. Joey Merlino’s sister Maria was engaged to Salvatore Testa for a while.

He attended St. Thomas Aquinas Grade School in Point Breeze, Philadelphia, and was friends with Michael “Mickey Chang” Ciancaglini and Joseph “Joey Chang” Ciancaglini Jr., who later became prominent figures in the Philadelphia crime family. Merlino’s father owned a 9M club in Southwark and ran it, which was later used by Nicodemo Scarfo as his criminal headquarters when he became the new boss of the Philadelphia crime family.

Joey Merlino Net Worth,
Joey Merlino

Revealing the Criminal Activities of Joey Merlino

In August 1982, at the age of 20, Merlino and Salvatore “Skinny” Scafidi Jr., the son of mobster Gaetano Scafidi Sr., attacked two male guards at Ledo’s Restaurant in Atlantic City and stabbed them. Merlino was convicted in 1984 of two serious assaults and a weapons possession charge for unlawful purposes.

In August 1984, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission banned him from entering New Jersey casinos. The same commission banned his father Salvatore and others for their criminal activities. Due to his father’s alcoholism, Salvatore was demoted from underboss to soldier by Nicodemo Scarfo in Philadelphia’s underworld. In 1988, Salvatore was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison for racketeering and drug trafficking.

Joseph Merlino has been portrayed as an exceptionally cruel individual focused on his public image, akin to a different version of New York’s John Gotti. From a former police officer turned gangster to a government witness, fellow mobster Ron Previte described Merlino as “a social butterfly. He liked to go out, gamble, and live the high life.”

He even invited TV crews to his annual Christmas party for the homeless and maintained a regular presence in the city’s nightclubs, restaurants, and sports events. Infamous for his attacks on people, robbing individuals, and stirring up fights in clubs, he was notorious among his close associates and future gangsters.

On October 31, 1989, in jail, Philadelphia crime family boss Nicodemo Scarfo Sr.’s son, Nicodemo Jr., experienced a terrifying incident at an Italian restaurant in Bella Vista. Nicodemo Jr. was targeted and shot multiple times with a MAC-10, but fortunately, he did not sustain any critical injuries. He recovered quickly and was able to leave the hospital in less than two weeks.

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Surprisingly, no one was ever held responsible for this attempted murder. However, both the FBI and local law enforcement suspect that Merlino orchestrated the shooting as part of a long-standing feud between Scarfos and Merlinos.

Despite these allegations, Merlino vehemently denies any involvement and claims to have been confined to his home during the incident. Interestingly, years later when a TV reporter mentioned a $500,000 reward on Merlino’s life, he responded with deep sarcasm, “Give me half a million dollars and I’ll take care of it myself.”

Moving on to another incident, in August 1989, Merlino faced charges of interstate theft and conspiracy related to an incident in 1987, where $352,000 was stolen from a Federal Armored Express truck. In January 1990, Merlino was found guilty of planning a robbery and sentenced to three years in prison.

The Rise and Reign of Joey Merlino in the Mob Wars

Merlino completed his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, McKean, where he met his accomplice Ralph Natale in 1990. Natale, an experienced mobster serving time for racketeering and drug trafficking, revealed that he and Merlino had planned to take over Philadelphia.

During his time in the criminal underworld, Natale identified Merlino’s key associates as Michael Ciancaglini, Steven Mazzone, George Borgesi, Gaetano “Tommy Horsehead” Scafidi, and Martin Angelina. These individuals, close friends of Merlino since high school, began expanding their criminal activities in Philadelphia.

In 1991, when John Stanfa assumed leadership of the Philadelphia family, Merlino’s young gang openly challenged him, earning them the nickname “Young Turks” in the media. They took a significant step by eliminating Felix Bocchino on January 29, 1992, and Merlino gained his freedom in April 1992.

In an attempt to halt further violence, Stanfa officially welcomed Merlino and his closest associate, Michael Ciancaglini, into the crime family. Stanfa intended to closely monitor Merlino’s crew’s activities and eliminate them more easily if necessary. While this strategic move temporarily curbed violence, a full-scale war erupted between Stanfa and Merlino in 1993.

On August 5 of the same year, Merlino miraculously survived an assassination attempt by two gunmen associated with Stanfa, suffering four gunshot wounds to his legs and buttocks. Sadly, Ciancaglini was shot in the chest and died.

On August 31, 1993, a drive-by shooting targeted Stanfa and his son as they drove on the Schuylkill Expressway. Fortunately, Stanfa escaped unharmed, but his son was wounded. Then, on September 17, 1993, a known associate of Merlino’s shot Stanfa dead.

During court proceedings, a Stanfa associate named Philip Coletti testified that he had attempted to detonate a remote-controlled bomb under Merlino’s car multiple times but failed on each occasion. In November 1993, the FBI arrested Merlino for violating the terms of his supervised release, leading to his return to prison.

Joey Merlino: The Rise and Reign of a Modern Mob Leader

Stanfa was arrested in March 1994 for racketeering and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, convicted in 1995, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996. Most of Stanfa’s supporters were also arrested and convicted, resulting in Merlino emerging victorious from the struggle after his release from jail in November 1994.

He established himself as an underboss, appointing Ralph Natale as the new boss. During Natale’s leadership, Merlino wielded true power within the family, allowing Natale to distance himself from direct involvement in criminal operations.

Despite this, Merlino gained notoriety as a brash, celebrity gangster, often seen partying with large groups of followers. His media persona earned him the nickname “John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue” (Passyunk Avenue being a street in South Philadelphia). He garnered headlines by inviting the press to his Christmas parties for the homeless and giving out turkeys on Thanksgiving in housing projects.

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Due to the arrogance and aggressiveness of Merlino’s young crew, many criminals avoided working with the crime family. Merlino had a habit of rejecting high-stakes deals with mobsters and paying the consequences for wins and losses, a practice known as “gazumping.” This behavior was directed towards both independent mobsters and associates connected to the crowd. Merlino and Natale were responsible for running the racket in gambling, loan sharking, extortion, and stolen goods within the crime family.

In 1995, Louis Turra, known as the leader of the Philadelphia drug gang 10th and O, was severely beaten by Merlino’s men allegedly for not paying Mafia street taxes on illegal earnings. Seeking revenge, Turra discussed Merlino’s murder with his father, Anthony, and members of the gang. Turra was found dead in January 1998 in a New York City jail while awaiting trial.

In March 1998, Anthony Turra, who was facing charges for plotting Merlino’s murder, was shot outside his home by a gunman wearing a black ski mask. Police Inspector Gerald Ken labeled this incident as an organized crime homicide. Three years later, Merlino was indicted for conspiracy in the murder plot but was ultimately acquitted.

In the latter half of the 1990s, Merlino successfully evaded more than twenty attempts on his life. He had a close friendship with Steve “Gorilla” Mondevergin, who was active as the president of the Pagans MC motorcycle club. At times, Merlino sought help from Pagans to resolve conflicts within the criminal underworld. Additionally, during the 1990s, Merlino forged alliances with members of the Junior Black Mafia. After Natale’s arrest for parole violation in 1999, Merlino officially took control of the crime family and severed all ties with Natale.”

Racketeering Conviction of Joey Merlino

On June 28, 1999, Merlino was convicted of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and offenses related to trafficking in illegal substances, as well as using communication facilities for unlawful activities. He was found guilty without bail and taken into custody. Later, the charges expanded to include racketeering, ordering or approving three murders and attempted murders of two others.

Cases were also brought against six other individuals. Cooperation from several of Merlino’s former mafia associates helped in reaching agreements to cooperate with the government. In December 1999, they agreed to cooperate to avoid charges related to trafficking in illegal substances. Gaetano “Tommy Horsehead” Scafidi agreed to cooperate out of fear that Merlino’s gang would kill him while serving his sentence in 2000.

Peter “The Crumb” Caprio also agreed to cooperate with the government in 2000 after being accused of two murders and Ron Previte testified after becoming a confidential informant several years prior. They all testified that Natal and Merlino also started a gang war to take over the Philadelphia crime family and that Merlino engaged in various criminal activities in the 1990s.

On July 20, 2001, the jury delivered a mixed verdict. Merlino was acquitted of all three murder charges and two charges of attempted murder. However, he was found guilty of extortion, gambling, and receiving stolen property. Along with Merlino, his six associates were also found guilty of various crimes related to racketeering. On December 3, 2001, Judge Herbert J. Hutton sentenced Merlino to 14 years in prison. Merlino commented on his sentence, “It’s not bad. It’s better than the death penalty.”

A month after the verdict, Merlino faced another indictment in federal court, this time for the 1996 murder of Joseph Sodano. Despite the murder charges not being proven as “not proven” under the RICO Act by the jury, in March 2004, Merlino was acquitted of Sodano’s murder and was instead acquitted of conspiracy to commit a violent crime as part of racketeering.

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After serving his sentence, Merlino spent time in federal correctional facilities, notably in Terre Haute, Indiana. After nearly 12 years, he was released on supervised release on March 15, 2011. Before being placed on supervised release, he spent six months in a halfway house in Florida until 2015.

However, just before his parole restrictions were lifted on January 4, 2015, Judge Richard Barclay Surick sentenced Merlino to four months in prison for violating his supervised release in Florida by associating with organized crime figures involved in organized crime activities.

Fortunately for Merlino, his sentence was later revoked, and he was released from federal custody in Miami on April 24, 2015. Winning an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit allowed him to be released without any further delays 10 days prior. Since then, he has been on probation.

Joey Merlino’s Move to Florida

After his release in 2011, Merlino relocated to Boca Raton, Florida. In a 2013 interview, he stated that he had no ties to the Philadelphia Mafia and had left his criminal life behind. He expressed his disillusionment with that world and mentioned the presence of informants. In 2014, Merlino opened a restaurant in Boca Raton under the name “Merlino’s,” showcasing his mother’s recipes.

However, due to his criminal record, he could not own an establishment serving alcohol, so he worked there as a maître d’ until it closed in 2016. On September 7, 2016, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board banned Merlino from all casinos in Pennsylvania.

On August 4, 2016, Merlino was among 46 individuals caught up in a sweep of arrests on the eastern seaboard due to racketeering charges. He was taken into custody at his residence in Florida and later faced charges in New York City.

The charges against Merlino included a case of fraud in connection with racketeering, another case of fraud, and two cases of illegal gambling. It was alleged that he was involved in illegal business deals with members of the Genovese crime family in New York. Additionally, Merlino was accused of participating in a large-scale medical fraud scheme in Florida, where doctors prescribed unnecessary and ineffective medical products to patients, billing their insurance companies. On August 12, Merlino posted a $5 million bond to ensure his release.

Among the 46 individuals caught up in the charges, the remaining 45 accepted plea deals resulting in more favorable outcomes. They pleaded guilty to reduced charges to lessen their penalties. However, Merlino chose not to accept any plea deal and instead opted to go to trial. The trial began on January 30, 2018, and lasted for two weeks, during which various testimonies were presented. Ultimately, on February 20, Judge Richard J. Sullivan acquitted Merlino of all four charges, ending legal proceedings against him.

Merlino avoided another trial by reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on April 27, withdrawing other charges and accepting guilt in a case of illegal gambling transactions through an electronic device in exchange for suggesting a 10-10 jail sentence.

He was sentenced to two years in jail on October 17. He was granted early release in October 2019 and was transferred to a halfway house to complete his sentence, eventually placed on supervised release in South Florida. Since then, he has adopted a lawful and philanthropic lifestyle.

In January 2023, Merlino made headlines again by posing for a picture with former President Donald Trump at Trump’s golf club, signaling “thumbs up.” In September 2023, Merlino launched a sports betting podcast called “The Skinny with Joey Merlino,” where he shares weekly football picks.

Business Ventures of Joey Merlino: A Comprehensive Overview

In 2024, Merlino started a cheesesteak venture in South Philadelphia.


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