Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino the reputed boss of the Philadelphia mafia is once again facing what could be an extended prison sentence if convicted after being indicted in the recent East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise case.
According to prosecutors, Merlino was a leader in this Cosa Nostra enterprise along with two alleged captains from New York’s Genovese crime family. Lawyers for Merlino believe the case against Skinny Joey is flawed but prosecutors seem to have an abundance of evidence from an undercover agent and cooperating witness on the inside. Could this be the beginning of the end of the Joey Merlino era and a sign that things are once again about to change for the Philly Mafia?
Merlino is believed to have taken over as boss of the Philly organized crime family in the mid-1990’s after a bloody mob war between Joey’s “Young Turks” and the John Stanfa faction. He survived multiple attempts on his life rising through the ranks of the mafia all the way up to the top spot. The energetic mobster had the mafia pedigree needed to become a major player from his father Salvatore “Chuckie” Merlino who once served as the families underboss during the Nicky Scarfo era. His reign has been a troubled on starting with conviction in 1999 for racketeering which led to a 14-year prison sentence. He seemingly held on as boss of the family with Joseph Ligambi serving as his acting boss until his release in 2011.
Merlino is believed to have taken back control of the family shortly after his supervised release ended running things from his new home down in Florida. For years now many have wondered as to whether or not Merlino was actually still the boss of the family something he consistently denied but that question seems to have been answered recently. Prosecutors noted in federal documents that Merlino was “working in earnest to rebuild the Philadelphia crime family” along with his East Coast LCN Enterprise activities. Would Merlino once again be able to maintain his grip atop the changing landscape of the now resurgent Philly mafia from a prison cell?
A conviction could lead to someone else making a move to take over the top spot bringing an end to the Joey Merlino era. There seem to be plenty of capable leaders currently within the organized crime family that would fit into the big chair. This would lead to the even bigger question of who takes over for Joey and leads the family into a new era. Many believe Ligambi who served competently in his last run as an acting boss could step back in but after his recent legal troubles and reported semi-retirement does he really have the drive to step back into such a high profile role. Longtime Merlino right-hand man Steven Mazzone could fit the bill already reportedly serving as the families acting boss and underboss on occasion and seems to have the respect of the family as a whole.
There are other options including Scarfo era mobster Phil Narducci which many see as boss material and theorize a scenario in which he could step in. Then there is the wildcard and often unpredictable mob captain George Borgesi who may now have the connections and opportunity needed to make a push. Now some would argue that the Philly mob family has been diminished enough as to earning power that no one may even actually want the job at this point. But this is Cosa Nostra and Philadelphia so odds are if the opportunity is there someone will want to step in and fill the gap. The family already seems to be operating in multiple factions so another viable possibility is a continued move in that direction leaving less of a need for a traditional boss.
Regardless of who eventually takes over the family or if it moves into more of a multiple faction type scenario without an overall leader the fall of Merlino would be the end of another chapter in the history of the colorful and often dysfunctional Philadelphia mob family. If this is the end of the line for Skinny Joey it will be interesting to see how his legacy as an American mafia boss is remembered. He was without a doubt a stand-up guy and in some regards an old school 24/7 type of mobster even though he was at times hampered by his attraction to attention.