February 3, 2021 – Eager, young mob associate Pete (Peter Pan) Tuccio originally met Philadelphia mafia don Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino on Instagram and then finally in-person through Tuccio’s uncle, New York mob captain Joseph (Joe Café) Desena, sometime in 2016 at C.J.’s Bar & Lounge in Ozone Park, Queens pub, according to a new podcast. The 28-year old Tuccio, who recently pleaded guilty to extortion charges, has ties to both the Lucchese and Gambino crime families in New York and is Merlino’s driver and bodyguard whenever Skinny Joey is in the Big Apple.
The question of how the brash, babyfaced New Yorker hooked up with the even brasher Merlino and his fast-living fashionista Philly crew has been on the lips of mob watchers everywhere since the Queens-bred Tuccio emerged as a Skinny Joey companion four years ago. Last week, Lucchese crime family soldier-turned-witness-turned-blogger John Pennisi (Sitdownnews.com) shed some light on the issue as part of the first episode of his new podcast, The MBA & The Button Man.
Tuccio direct messaged Merlino on Instagram in 2016, according to Pennisi, and when Tuccio’s name came up in dinner conversation at a meal shared between Pennisi, Merlino and Tuccio’s uncle, Joe Cafe, Merlino asked to meet him, impressed by stories he was hearing of his cowboy behavior (getting banned from Matteo’s – an Italian restaurant in his Howard Beach neighborhood for beating down a bartender). The meeting took place after the dinner in Ozone Park at CJ’s Bar & Lounge when Desena summoned his nephew at Merlino’s request. The notoriously slick and media conscious Merlino, while no longer active on social media, was previously, and that led him to be nicknamed “The Instagram Don.”
Joe Cafe Desena is the Lucchese’s capo in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Desena put Tuccio under Pennisi’s wing after Tuccio got into a beef with members of the Bonanno crime family. Tuccio’s current legal problems stem from a 2015 incident where torched the car of a pizza parlor owner refusing to cough up shakedown money to the Gambino crime family.
Pennisi, 51, was made into the Lucchese crime family in 2013, placed in the borgata’s Staten Island-based “Bronx crew.” In his capacity as a button man for the Bronx crew, he was introduced to the 58-year old Merlino via Merlino’s contact in the Lucchese clan, Joseph (Little Joe) Perna. Pennisi began cooperating in 2018 out of fear that the Lucchese bosses were aiming to kill him. His job as a star witness has helped dismantle the crime family’s hierarchy. Merlino spends most of his time in Boca Raton, Florida these days.