Of the 46 alleged mobsters and associates in last years, East Coast LCN Enterprise case only alleged Philadelphia mafia boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino and New York Mafia captain Eugene “Rooster” Onofrio are going to trial.
The feds originally called the case a major blow to organized crime taking down an enterprise that combined members of various mafia families that had been in operation since 2010. But the case has been hampered by various problems including an internal investigation into the mishandling of a key witness believed to be John Rubeo and evidence he collected that includes tons of secretly recorded conversations leading to the disciplinary actions against two FBI agents. These developments rattled the feds leading prosecutors to offer some pretty sweet plea deals void of some of the more serious charges which all but the two aforementioned have accepted.
The flamboyant Joey Merlino who is free on a $5 million dollar bond declined the feds offer to make a deal deciding to take his chances in court. The 55-year-old mobster has been able to dodge some legal bullets in the past including multiple murder charges although he hasn’t been completely bulletproof getting convicted on racketeering charges in 2001 leading to a 14-year sentence. Merlino has been charged with various crimes including racketeering conspiracy, health care fraud, and illegal gambling in the current case which could put him behind bars for more than 20 years if convicted. Merlino’s defense team tried to get the trial moved from New York to Philadelphia which could potentially be a more favorable atmosphere. In the City of Brotherly Love Joey is a more of a known commodity and somewhat of a celebrity gangster as head of the Philly mafia leading potential jurors to either be afraid of him or have a potentially positive opinion of him instead of New York where he is probably seen as just another criminal.
There was plenty of debate as to whether or not the feds really wanted to take this case all the way to trial considering the problems that have developed. But they have not backed down and have even made moves to potentially strengthen their case by bringing in NY mafia rat Peter Lovaglio a former capo in the Bonanno crime family to testify against the defendants. Lovaglio was not implicated in any of the crimes in this case but the feds claim he had interactions with both mobsters before he was busted. It seems like prosecutors may put him on the stand to testify about the defendant’s standings within Cosa Nostra. It wasn’t a surprise to most when Joey turned down his plea offer and decided to go to trial because it’s part of his personality and he doesn’t mind taking the gamble and certainly won’t shy away from the media attention it brings. He has survived multiple attempts on his life over the years and has denied any claims that he is involved in the mafia and has been quoted as saying he flat out refuses to plead guilty to any charges.
Both Merlino and Onofrio were set to tried at the same time but a judge recently ruled to postpone Onofrio’s trial indefinitely because of medical issues. So Skinny Joey will be the center of attention when he walks into the federal court in Manhattan in a couple of weeks with the feds once again trying to put him away. It’s no secret that ever since he was released from prison back in 2011 after finishing up his previous 14-year stretch that he was still on the feds radar and they would like nothing more than to have the flashy American Mafia boss become a guest of the government once again. You can find more information on the upcoming Joey Merlino trial and some of the evidence the feds have against him in some of our previous articles here and here.