Joey Merlino leaves prison; heads to Florida

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

After 12 years behind bars, Joey Merlino is no longer "Skinny Joey," the pencil-thin Mafioso who was the constant target of the FBI and Philadelphia police.

He's now 49, beefed up, and headed from an Indiana prison to a halfway house in southern Florida where he'll be able to have quality time with his wife and children.

In his old neighborhood, Philadelphia's ultimate celebrity gangster of the 80's and 90's, still has admirers.

"I thought he was a gentleman, always been a gentleman with me, and I understand he's done a lot of nice things for underprivileged children and, for that, I commend him," South Philadelphia resident Pat Bombito said.

Merlino gave food to the poor at holidays, while triggering constant and often times violent power plays in the organized crime underworld.

He was colorful and savored the attention of the media. Merlino, time and again, beat murder charges against him, but the drug and racketeering cases stuck and he went away to jail.

Former police homicide commander and mob buster Frank Friel helped put plenty of gangsters behind bars, including Joey's father Salvatore.

He predicts Joey will stay true to his roots.

"If was a betting man, I would bet on the side that he'll want to get back to and reconstruct some of his skills, knowledge and abilities in the Philadelphia area," Friel said.

Christoper Warren, who's represented Merlino in the past, believes Joey leaves prison with a relatively clean slate.

"In my experience, if they wanted him, they would not have let him get out of jail; they would have indicted him, prevented him from being released and the fact they let him go, at least to me, indicates he's not a target at this point," Warren said.

Will Joey walk the straight and narrow or will that underworld limelight lure him back to his old ways in his old hometown?

Time will tell.

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