Theyre scary, said one neighbor who asked not to be identified. Weve had the police come several times. Its been very stressful living near them. There is always screaming and fighting.
The neighbors say what they find most disturbing are the banging noises in the middle of the night, as if furniture or equipment is being moved about.
Im not easily frightened, another neighbor said when informed a convicted mobster lived a few doors away. I dont know who he is, but he does have a lot of visitors.
Retired Philadelphia Police Sgt. Walt Coughlin, who followed Merlino for much of his 47-year career, said the former mob boss seemed to like everybody except those who were out to kill him. His neighbors welcomed him, as he often gave them Christmas trees and offered to help them if they couldnt pay their heating bill.
There were quite a few murders we thought he did, but there were no witnesses, said Coughlin. Nobody would cooperate with police. They were afraid, and he was a hometown boy.
Its not clear whether Merlinos wife, Deborah Wells Merlino, and his two children are living with him in Boca. Neighbors say they havent seen any children at the house.
Boca Raton police said they have no record of any calls to the address, but if police were summoned because of noise, they wouldnt necessarily write up a report, said spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg.
Merlino appears to work out of his home. He named his Wi-Fi connection Pine Barrens, a reference to the heavily forested area near Atlantic City, N.J., where organized criminals often disposed of bodies. It was the scene of one of the most famous and frightening Sopranos episodes.
It would not surprise those who know Merlino if he is still living the life.
I can tell you that I would not want to live next door to Joey Merlino, said Stephen LaPenta, a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant who worked undercover as a mob informant, and infiltrated Merlinos inner circle. LaPenta, now retired and living in Florida, says he still keeps tabs on the flamboyant ringleader.
The Joey I know was a hard-drinking, womanizing, gambling drug user who would strangle you, he said.
Merlino had ruthless power, as well as panache.
If Joey sneezed, 20 people would hand him a handkerchief, LaPenta said.
So why Boca Raton, a place without real cheese steaks, Mummers and the Eagles?
Organized crime experts say that Merlino, one of the many Teflon dons who have beaten multiple murder raps, has a better shot of staying under the radar in Boca. He was high-profile in Philly, with an entourage of pretty women and bodyguards. He was always followed by police and undercover agents.
Richard Mangan, a professor at Florida Atlantic Universitys School of Criminology, said Merlino is no stranger to South Florida. At one time, he was part of Nicodemo Little Nicky Scarfos regime in Philadelphia. Scarfo owned a home in Fort Lauderdale, and Merlino is among those whose photo was taken on Scarfos boat, the Casa Blanca, also known as The Usual Suspects.
Mangan said its likely Merlino has been in charge of the family all along, even from prison.