FLA.-SH MOB: Leaked docs claim Joey Merlino's back in the game.

Joseph S. "Skinny Joey" Merlino
Joseph S. "Skinny Joey" Merlino
Posted: February 29, 2012

E VEN AS Joey Merlino was settling into a South Florida halfway house last summer after 12 years in prison, the FBI issued a confidential alert warning law-enforcement officials that the former Philadelphia mob boss might try to set up shop in the Miami area with some of his old associates.

The memo was contained in the first batch of some five million emails being released by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks - including several FBI alerts obtained by a Texas-based private-intelligence firm on topics ranging from biker gangs to al Qaeda's English-language website.

"As of March 2011, former Philadelphia (La Cosa Nostra) crime family boss, Joseph 'Skinny Joe' Merlino, appears to be restoring and developing significant relationships for a potential South Florida crew," read the Situational Information Report put out by the FBI's Miami office last June. "Reportedly, he may become involved in illicit gambling/bookmaking activities again."

Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison, in December 2001, on racketeering charges that included extortion and gambling. He spent two years in prison awaiting trial, then served time in Illinois, Kentucky, Texas and Indiana, where he apparently lifted a lot of weights.

Released from prison in March, Merlino, 49, did six months at a halfway house in West Palm Beach, Fla. One of his attorneys, Lucille Bongiovanni, said yesterday that Merlino was "moving on with his life and enjoying his family."

The feds suggest otherwise. Merlino is believed to be working at a flooring company in South Florida, but sources say that he may be re-establishing a foothold in Philly's mob through longtime associate Steve Mazzone.

Mazzone, convicted with Merlino in 2001, is believed to be running the organization while mob boss Joseph Ligambi and other mob members are in jail awaiting trial on racketeering charges.

The Miami FBI's "potential criminal activity alert" was among material released Sunday night by Wikileaks, which had obtained the emails from Stratfor, an intelligence firm in Austin. The memo had an "unclassified/law enforcement sensitive" security classification.

In a statement, Stratfor said that "thieves" had broken into its email system. The company is not commenting on individual emails. James Marshall, a spokesman for the FBI's Miami office, declined to comment on the alert.

"The allegations that Joe is assembling a 'South Florida crew' and involved in illegal activities in Florida are completely false," Bongiovanni said. "The FBI alert is nothing more than guesswork and a recitation of past charges. Joe's Florida activities are completely legitimate."

The June alert, which was "shared for informational purposes but has not been fully evaluated, integrated with other information, interpreted, or analyzed," names several men with ties to Philadelphia organized crime that Merlino might contact in South Florida.

They include Phillip "Disney" McFillin, who "had a role during the Bruno/Scarfo era of the Philadelphia LCN Crime Family" and was former mob boss Nicky Scarfo's "best friend," according to the alert. McFillin and Ligambi confidant Anthony Staino Jr. reportedly were involved in Florida real-estate transactions and were "kicking up" proceeds to Ligambi, the alert states.

John "Jack" Manfredi, another Merlino associate from Philadelphia, recently relocated to Hallandale Beach, according to the memo. Manfredi "used to be involved with Merlino's crew in Philadelphia and is currently operating a betting/gambling Web site called Getitinnow.com," the memo states. Manfredi "is actively looking for investors for ATM's that he would like to install in strip clubs and massage parlors. Allegedly, much of this activity is for generating income on Merlino's behalf."

Manfredi could not be reached for comment.

The alert also speculated that Merlino "may reach out to" Anthony Accetturo Jr. - a soldier in the Luchese crime family's New Jersey crew - for "muscle."

Merlino, who is married with two teenage daughters, is making new friends in Florida as well, according to the alert.

"Merlino is building a relationship with an identified, wealthy and well-connected individual who is allegedly getting a Rolls-Royce for Merlino," according to the alert. "The same individual is purportedly going to buy a one million dollar home in West Palm Beach . . . for Merlino."

Merlino is on federal supervised release for three years and is prohibited from associating with known felons. That means that if Mazzone is Merlino's puppet in Philadelphia, they'd be wise to keep the strings hidden.

The Miami report apparently wasn't shared with Philadelphia-area law-enforcement officials, one of whom yesterday doubted the scenarios it laid out.

"I would expect him to reconnect, but those names strike me as not very fruitful," the official said. "The whole thing sounds off base."


Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or benderw@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @wbender99.

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