NEW YORK (AP) — A notorious Philadelphia mob boss sentenced to two years in prison for illegal betting quipped outside court Wednesday that President Donald Trump was right to suggest cooperators or flippers should be outlawed.
Smoking a cigarette, Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino chuckled when he made the comment as he walked away from Manhattan federal court.
Trump said during a “Fox & Friends” interview last summer that flippers who cooperate with prosecutors to get a reduced sentence “almost ought to be illegal.” Special counsel Robert Mueller has relied on numerous cooperators in his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Merlino, 56, agreed to plead guilty in April so he could avoid a retrial in a racketeering case that ended with a hung jury in February.
At that trial, Merlino’s defense attorney, Edwin Jacobs, told jurors that Merlino was framed by compromised turncoat mobsters seeking leniency for their crimes.
On Wednesday, Jacobs asked that his client be permitted to serve one half of any sentence on home confinement and be given credit for four months he spent in prison after a judge revoked his supervised relief in 2014.
Jacobs said there was an “element of urban myth” to the description of who his client is and what he has done.
Judge Richard J. Sullivan sentenced Merlino to the maximum two-year term, though Merlino’s plea deal called for him to get as little as 10 months in prison.
The judge said evidence showed Merlino is no longer the organized crime boss in Philadelphia that he once was.
But, the judge, that evidence also proved Merlino was “happy to assume a role where you took tributes from people” and resumed other benefits of organized crime after moving to Florida, where he ran an upscale Italian restaurant called Merlino’s in Boca Raton. It has since closed.
Merlino was arrested in 2016 with four others in a crackdown on an East Coast syndicate that prosecutors say committed crimes including extortion, loan-sharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud.
Merlino once controlled remnants of a Philadelphia-South Jersey organized crime family that was decimated by a bloody civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. Federal authorities say he was frequently targeted by murder plots after rivals put a $500,000 murder contract on his head.
In 2001, a jury acquitted Merlino and six co-defendants of three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder that could have resulted in a life sentence. He was convicted of lesser racketeering charges and served 12 years in prison before his 2011 release.
During the sentencing Wednesday, one of Merlino’s supporters grumbled profanities, catching the attention of Sullivan, who summoned U.S. marshals.
“Shame on you,” the judge told the man, who apologized and left the room.
After announcing the sentence, Sullivan told Merlino: “Mr. Merlino. Enough. Let’s move on. You’re better than this. You’ve certainly spent enough time in courts and jails for a lifetime.”
Merlino must report to prison in 45 days.
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
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