Who leads the Philadelphia mafia now is a question being asked by everyone from mob insiders to law enforcement.
Reputed acting boss Joe Ligambi is in prison awaiting retrial on racketeering conspiracy charges and many other family leaders were convicted in the latest Philly mafia trial. This has seemingly created a leadership void in the Philly mob that someone has to step up and fill. Many believe that Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino may once again be running the Philadelphia mafia family from his new home down in South Florida. Merlino was released from prison just over a year ago after completing a 14 year stretch and now resides in Boca Raton. He has tried to keep a low profile since his release avoiding the media which is unlike the once flashy mob boss nicknamed ” The John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue”. But Merlino says he has turned his life around and for the first time since his release agreed to sit down with long time mob reporter George Anastasia and talk about his life now and where he is headed.
“Skinny Joey Merlino”
Now 51 Merlino currently working for an advertising agency in Florida claims he is done with the mafia lifestyle and is going into legit business. He said its beautiful down in Boca Raton with great weather, no stress, and people down there live to be 100 and he has no intention of moving back to Philadelphia. He admits that he misses his family as in his blood relatives like his mom and sister who still live in South Philly but mentioned nothing of his other family. Merlino explained why he decided to turn his life around now doing the math on the almost 20 years he has spent behind bars and how many things he missed including his daughters growing up. They still live and attend school in North Jersey along with Merlino’s wife and he didn’t want to disrupt that by moving them to Florida so they visit on holidays and during summer months. Merlino said he plans on being around to see them go off to college.
Merlino tells Anastasia that he is looking into starting his own business down in Florida and is considering things like restaurants , cafes , cigar shops , and even a Philly cheese steak shop. There has also been some talk of a book , a movie, and possibly even a reality tv show. At one point during the interview Merlino said “Anyone can be an actor”. Anastasia says that Skinny Joey still looks and even sounds like the “John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue” and still has those dark eyes that could shoot daggers. But at this point there is no reason not to take Joey at his word and it seems he has a different perspective on life and he says he has seen too much and spent too much time on lockdown.
But law enforcement doesn’t seem to be totally convinced that Skinny Joey has turned things around and is days as a mobster are done. Many believe he may be running the Philly crime family from Florida having orders carried out by guys loyal to him on the streets in Philadelphia. The feds even sent turncoat North Jersey mobster Nicholas “Nicky Skins” Stefanelli a one time Gambino crime family member down to Florida wearing a wire to talk to Merlino about “business ventures” and other mob topics just after his release from prison in hopes he may incriminate himself. But Stefanelli came up empty after Merlino would not go down that road or show any interest into any of what he was pitching. Merlino said Stefanelli asked him about Joe Ligambi and Nicky Scarfo Jr at the 2010 meeting at Dunkin Donuts but Joey knows certain things you simply don’t discuss with someone you have just met. Stefanelli then mentioned having investors ready to put cash into some of Merlino’s business ventures that he was considering but Merlino remained uninterested. Merlino recently learned that Stefanelli was indeed wired and was recording their conversations “the feds sent him down here to set me up. I told him I’m legitimate. I don’t want nothing to do with any of that other stuff … What else could I say?”. Merlino says that he has had enough and he wants no part of the Philly Mafia anymore “Too many rats” he said “I want no part of that”.
Maybe only time will tell if Merlino has indeed gone legit and left the Mafia behind for good !