Convicted former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Merlino, once known as “Skinny Joey,” has been arrested by federal authorities and indicted along with more than 40 others on a number of charges including racketeering.
Merlino is currently being held in Palm Beach, according to Merlino’s longtime defense attorney Ed Jacobs, who is based in Atlantic City.
Merlino is now awaiting a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Florida, Jacobs said.
Often pictured with slicked-back hair and flashy sunglasses, Merlino and dozens of other gangsters are accused of operating an illegal gambling operation and committing extortion, health-care fraud and running a loan shark business in schemes that stretched from Florida to Manhattan, according to an indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York City on Thursday.
In response, Merlino’s attorney Jacobs said the former top La Cosa Nostra’s alleged involvement is limited to accusations of health-care fraud and gambling. Even those charges, Jacobs said, are threadbare.
“The indictment is very, very broad and general,” Jacobs said. “There’s not a lot of meat on the bones.”
Still, Jacobs said he’s confident Merlino will beat the charges.
“It’s not our first rodeo. We’ve been through this before. We’ve won more than we lost.
Merlino and others instructed doctors to issue excessive prescriptions for costly compound creams that were then billed to the insurers, the indictment states, and kickbacks were paid to doctors to write the prescriptions.
In addition, prosecutors say Merlino operated an illegal sports gambling company called Costa Rican International Sportsbook, which allegedly was active in New York, New Jersey and Florida but based in Costa Rica.
Some of the other more than 40 individuals in the indictment allegedly lit on fire the car owned by someone associated with a competing casino in Yonkers. In another alleged episode, an associate of the mob was ordered to break the knees of a panhandler. Some others illegally trafficked firearms. And prosecutors also describe instances of intimidation and assault used as retaliation. Authorities say many in the group organized get-togethers with a coded language and established highway rest stops at the gathering place for the secret meetings.
A federal appeals court released Merlino last April after he served four months for not informing the court while on probation that he was met up with John “Johnny Chang” Ciancaglini at a cigar bar in Boca Raton, the Florida resort town. The meeting, prosecutors said, constituted a parole violation. Ciancaglini is an alleged former mob capo who was convicted along with Merlino in the 2001 racketeering trial.
Merlino, 54, has been residing in Florida since 2011, when he was released from prison in Philadelphia following a decade-long sentence on racketeering charges.
In January, Merlino’s Boca Raton Italian restaurant closed its doors, the Miami Herald reported. Since he couldn’t own a liquor license, Merlino was officially a maître d’ at the now-shuttered eatery.