Will He Stay Or Will He Go?: Philly Mafia Don ‘Skinny Joey’ Merlino Pondering Returning Home Permanently Sources Claim

Is Skinny Joey headed home for good? Rumors have been rampantly circulating these past few weeks in east coast underworld circles that reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino, transplanted to Florida since his release from prison on racketeering charges over five years ago, is thinking of moving back to his old Philly stomping grounds full time in the near future and opening another restaurant.

“It’s not as if the guy ain’t tipping his play,” said one source. “He might have already wore out his welcome (in FLA). From his end, he might have already gotten what he wanted from going out there.”

Merlino’s, Skinny Joey’s Boca Raton Italian eatery, went up for sale last month – after investors poured reportedly two million bucks into the restaurant, including a recent remodeling, the price tag is said to be $400,000. One rumor has Skinny Joey intending to transport restaurant equipment from the shuttered-for-the-summer Merlino’s up to the Philadelphia-New Jersey area for use in a future business endeavor in the food-service industry to be housed in either the City of Brotherly Love or in a nearby Jersey suburb.

The 54-year old Merlino is currently doing double duty between South Florida and South Philly, and per sources on both sides of the law, running his longstanding criminal empire through a series of trusted proxies, like alleged acting boss and syndicate elder statesman Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi and his best friend and reputed street boss Steven (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone.

Merlino violated his then-parole restrictions by having dinner with his alleged underboss John (Johnny Chang) Ciancaglini in the summer of 2014 at a Boca Raton cigar bar. He’s been “off paper” (no longer under any form of parole restrictions) for more than a year.

joey being joey

Back in the 1990s, Merlino, Mazzone and a tightknit crew of childhood buddies, most of them sporting a local mafia lineage, fought and won a war for power in the Bruno-Scarfo crime family, while Ligambi and Ciancaglini were in prison. Following Merlino, Mazzone, Ciancaglini (again) – and others – going off to the joint in the early-2000s because of racketeering convictions, Ligambi, sprung from his own racketeering-and-murder conviction via a 1997 retrial, assumed command of the Philly mob on an acing basis. Ligambi beat another racketeering indictment with a pair of mistrials in 2013 and 2014 respectively and briefly stepped away from regular mob administrative duties, taking the Family’s consigliere post.

According to the FBI, since Merlino walked free from his sentence in early 2011, he’s been comfortable ruling from afar, issuing orders mostly from hundreds of miles away, taking monthly meetings in Florida with his Philly cadre of emissaries who shuffled back-and-forth delivering messages and enforcing Skinny Joey’s edicts.

Could that protocol be changing soon? Only time will tell. However, the infamous thin one was back in the news this week.

FoxPhily29 television’s Dave Schratwieser reported Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission is seeking to ban Merlino from all state-sanctioned casino establishments. Gaming commission authorities have tried serving Skinny Joey with “black book” papers, but have yet to be successful. The paper work filed by the state points to an incident in March at Philly’s Sugar House casino where Merlino and his entourage got into a physical altercation with another group of patrons while playing blackjack. Skinny Joey is already black booked in Atlantic City.

Merlino’s alleged prodding of Uncle Joe Ligambi out of semi-retirement last year in an effort to quell rising tensions within a crowded Philadelphia mafia landscape might have paved the way for his return. The once-simmering bad blood brewing between multiple syndicate factions representing different era’s of the organization’s history seems to have ceased with Ligambi’s return to the fold on a day-to-day basis in mid-2015.

“Joey feels more comfortable there (in Philly) now than he has in a while,” said a source with knowledge of goings-on in the Skinny Joey camp. “And he’s feeling heat down in Florida, so you do the math. Yeah, he’s considering all his options right now.”

The FBI in Florida and Philadelphia are both keeping tabs on Merlino. Some experts speculate if an indictment lies on the horizon for Skinny Joey any time in the near future it will be filed in federal court in South Florida.

Not everybody would be happy to see him back roaming the streets of South Philly on a regular basis, according to another source.

“You think the Scarfo guys want him back on the scene?, like they want a hole in their head,” he said. “Those fellas are coasting. They’ve got their footholds back and are doing their thing quietly. Joey ain’t quiet. All he does is bring attention.”

In addition to the Merlino contingent in the modern-day Philadelphia mafia, there are also two separate wings of the crime family made up exclusively of soldiers inducted into the mob in the 1980s under the Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo regime and those solely loyal to them. Scarfo, 87, is on his last legs serving life in prison. Merlino’s father, Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino, was Scarfo’s underboss.

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