Mob icon Merlino speaks but doesn’t reveal a lot

Joey Merlino, the longtime Philadelphia crime boss profiled in Sunday’s Miami Herald, called a Herald reporter Sunday night on her cell phone to answer the question that has puzzled mob watchers here and up north: Why did he move to Boca Raton after finishing a prison stint for racketeering?

Merlino’s explanation: “I like it here.”

He did not elaborate.

Merlino, who declined to talk in detail before Sunday’s article and seldom speaks publicly, expounded briefly on a few other matters in a 15-minute conversation:

• On a claim by Stephen LaPenta, a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant who worked undercover as a mob informant, that “the Joey I know was a hard-drinking, womanizing, gambling drug user who would strangle you: Not so, Merlino said..

Merlino called LaPenta’s comments “lies” and denied having ever taken a drug in his life.

• On media reports that he is now in the carpet-installing business: “I do not work in the carpet business.”

He would not say how he is making a living these days.

• On the fact that his Wi-Fi connection is named “Pine Barrens,” a reference to the heavily forested area near Atlantic City, N.J., where organized crime figures have been known to dispose of bodies: Coincidence, he said.

“I don’t even know what the Pine Barrens is,” Merlino said.

• On reports by neighbors of noisy parties at his $400,000 condo, with beefy men and scantily clad women coming and going at all hours: To the contrary, his wife and children spent much of the summer together at his Boca home, he said.

• On the Philadelphia Eagles, his hometown team, who were playing the New York Giants on national television as he spoke on the phone: “Michael Vick is the best quarterback in the NFL.”

Vick went on to have a big night as the Eagles beat the Giants, 19-17.

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