Federal judge to decide if Philly mafia head should be tried in NY

Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino
Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino

A federal hearing in West Palm Beach on Friday will determine if the alleged head of the Philadelphia Mafia family should be held without bond and sent to New York City to face racketeering charges.

Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, 54, is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge on charges that he was part of a health care fraud scheme where conspirators got corrupt doctors to bill insurers for unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound creams in exchange for kickbacks.

Merlino, who lives in Boca Raton, was one of nearly four dozen reputed members of an East Coast crime syndicate who were charged last week with racketeering and various crimes including extortion, loansharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud. Federal prosecutors say the syndicate operated in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey.

Merlino has repeatedly beat murder charges in past cases, but served nearly 12 years in prison for racketeering before being released in 2011. He went back to prison in 2014 for three months for violating his parole by socializing with Philadelphia mobster John “Johnny Chang” Ciancaglini at a Florida cigar bar.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Merlino has “been captured on recordings supervising a number of individuals, questioning whether certain associates were ‘rats.'”

In court documents arguing against Merlino’s release, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, notes Merlino’s criminal record and his “long history” as a Mafia leader.

“His demonstrated unwillingness to refrain from committing serious crimes while under court supervision, make him a danger to the community sufficiently serious that detention pending trial is required,” Bharara wrote.

While living in Florida, Merlino leant his name to a Boca Raton Italian restaurant, Merlino’s, which opened and closed last year. Because of his criminal record, he couldn’t own the liquor license so he was listed as the maître d.