The only murder reputed Philadelphia mafia boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino is suspected of carrying out that possibly matches the method he was recorded bragging of favoring on an FBI wire three years ago is the 1996 Michael (Dutchie) Avicolli hit. Merlino, 55, was taped telling mobsters in New York’s Genovese crime family in 2014 “It’s easy to kill someone….you’re my friend, you trust me. I tell you, ‘Listen, drive me home right now.’ I get you in the car, I shoot you in the fucking head and it’s over with,” in recordings revealed in a court document filed this week in Merlino’s current federal racketeering case arising out of the Empire State and charging him with bookmaking and health care fraud.

The bombshell snippet of audio surveillance was included as part of the government’s response motion to attorneys for the now Florida-headquartered Merlino seeking a change of venue in the case from New York back to his hometown of Philly. Merlino is set to go to trial in January. He beat homicide charges at trial back in the 2000s, but is still considered a suspect in ordering, sanctioning or personally carrying out more than a dozen gangland murders in the last 25 years.

None of them, accept the Avicolli hit, fit the description he gave on tape (note: context is important too, yet unfortunately because of a lack of details surrounding the full 2014 recording of Merlino talking murder with the Genovese clan, we don’t have any here).

Dutchie Avicolli belonged to Merlino’s inner circle and is alleged to have met his demise over affairs of the heart – he had supported Skinny Joey in his war campaign to claim control of the Bruno-Scarfo crime family, which traditionally operates in Philadelphia and North New Jersey, from 1992 through 1994. Avicolli got behind the wheel of his blue-colored Buick and left his South Philly residence on the morning of April 3, 1996 and was never seen again. Multiple sources tell Gangster Report, Avicolli was in a beef with Merlino’s right-hand man and underboss Steven (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone over the fact that Avicolli, a known playboy, was romancing Mazzone’s then wife and Mazzone was retaliating by seducing Avicolli’s niece.

“They took Dutchie for a ride up to North Jersey and he never came home,” said former Philly mob don and Merlino mentor Ralph Natale of the Avicolli hit to FoxPhilly29’s Dave Schratwieser, an award-winning investigative journalist in Pennsylvania, in a television news interview in the spring plugging his new book (Last Don Standing).

Merlino and Natale grabbed power in the Philly mafia in tandem in 1994 with the incarceration of their rival, sitting Sicilian-born Godfather John Stanfa, a one-time driver for crime family namesake Angelo Bruno and co-conspirator in Bruno’s March 1980 assassination. Natale, 83, entered the Witness Protection Program in 1999 and testified at Merlino’s summer 2001 trial where he was acquitted on multiple murder counts, however, convicted of racketeering.

According to FBI informants, Avicolli, 52, was shot in the head and buried on farm property in New Jersey by Mazzone, Merlino and others. The Avicolli execution and a number of other unsolved local mob hits are getting a new looksee by investigators in an ongoing federal racketeering and murder probe centered around modern-day Philadelphia mob activity per a Schratwieser report in April.

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