January 30, 2018
Philly Mob boss "Skinny Joey" Merlino went to trial on Tuesday.
In opening statements in the federal racketeering and conspiracy trial in a Manhattan courtroom, a federal prosecutor said Merlino, who had been running a restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, fell back into organized crime through his part as a "fixer" in a widespread health care fraud scheme, the Associated Press reported.
TRIAL PREVIEW: Merlino gets his chance to put feds under microscope
The indictment alleges Merlino, 55, and two Genovese crime family capos, Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello and Eugene "Rooster" Onofrio were leaders of what federal authorities are calling the East Coast LCN (La Cosa Nostra) Enterprise, an organization that may exist in name only, but that authorities contend includes members of the Philadelphia mob and the Genovese, Gambino, Bonanno and Luchese crime families in New York.
Merlino was the only defendant with ties to Philadelphia. He is accused of running an illegal sports betting operation and taking part in a multi-million dollar health care insurance fraud scam. Prosecutors allege Merlino “participated in a scheme to defraud insurance companies by bribing doctors and patients to obtain prescriptions for compound pain creams, which were reimbursed by insurance companies at exorbitant amounts. The defendant and his co-conspirators profited from those reimbursements.”
Merlino “called the shots and he always called them in favor of taking and keeping money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Nicolas told jurors on Tuesday morning, according to the AP.
In his opening argument, defense attorney Edwin Jacobs said Merlino was framed by criminals cooperating with authorities and lying to save their own skins, the AP reported. “Joey is accused of a bunch of crimes he didn’t commit,” Jacobs said.
Merlino has rejected plea deals that could have resulted in a prison sentence of two to three years.
“He’s not pleading guilty,” a close associate told PhillyVoice last week. “He says he hasn’t done anything wrong.”
In fact, the flamboyant South Philly mobster, says that associate and others familiar with his thinking, sees the trial as a chance to hold federal law enforcement accountable for actions that border on criminal.
The trial is expected to take about a month.
PhillyVoice contributor George Anastasia contributed to this report.