Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino the alleged boss of the Philadelphia mafia has been a mainstay on the feds radar since his release from prison back in 2011.
Merlino was busted along with over 40 other alleged mafia members and associates for being part of what the feds have labeled as the East Coast LCN Enterprise. Now it an odd twist of fate it’s Merlino who is apparently putting the pressure on the feds by holding firm on his refusal to agree to a plea deal in the case. Skinny Joey was facing multiple charges including racketeering conspiracy which could have landed him behind bars for an extended period of time. But the feds case began to fall apart after an alleged misconduct probe was launched looking into possible misdeed by three FBI agents in the case.
This bizarre turn prompted prosecutors to offer some sweet plea deals agreeing to drop the main racketeering conspiracy charge allowing the defendants to plead guilty to only the lesser charges leading to drastically reduced sentences. Merlino was one of eight defendants who opted out of the original plea negotiations but according to sources everyone except Joey has now agreed to some kind of deal or are very close to an agreement. Joey seems to be the last man standing and at least seems content to roll the dice and take the feds on at trial. Merlino has always been proud to say that he has never taken a plea deal in his life and sources claim he is saying that he doesn’t plan to start taking them now.
It seems clear from the plea negotiations that neither the U.S. Attorney’s office or the FBI are too keen on taking any part of this case to trial. A large part of the case against Merlino revolves around wiretap evidence collected by a New York mafia turncoat named John Rubeo which has potentially been compromised by the internal misconduct probe. This has seemingly put Joey and attorney Ed Jacobs in a fairly strong negotiating position which could lead to them getting an offer they can’t refuse. But it wouldn’t exactly be a shock to anyone if Joey Merlino pushes this thing all the way to trial no matter what offer the feds make because there is never a dull moment when it comes to Joey.
It would certainly be a bitter pill for the feds to swallow if Merlino finds a way to walk away from this a free man considering all the effort put into getting him back behind bars. The feds have taken it on the chin in some recent Cosa Nostra cases but being beaten this time by Joseph Merlino would certainly rank among the more gut-wrenching.