WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The flamboyant alleged head of the Philadelphia Mafia was released from jail Friday after a federal judge granted him $5 million bail as he awaits trial on racketeering charges.
Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, 54, was granted bail after federal prosecutors reversed their opposition and agreed to his release after saying last week that he was a "danger to the community." They didn't explain what led to their turnabout.
Merlino will be required to live at his Boca Raton home and wear an ankle bracelet. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman said Merlino can work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the local restaurant that bears his name, Merlino's, which he says will reopen in October, and travel to New York City, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, including to attend a family day at his two daughters' university.
Matthewman asked Merlino for assurances that he will obey the conditions of his release, saying he didn't want to issue a warrant for his arrest.
"Don't worry your honor, you won't," replied the unshaven Merlino, who was dressed in dark blue jail overalls and shackled at the wrists and ankles.
Merlino faces up to 20 years in prison on charges that he was part of a health care fraud scheme where conspirators got corrupt doctors to bill insurers for unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound creams in exchange for kickbacks. He was one of nearly four dozen reputed members of an East Coast crime syndicate who were charged last week with racketeering and various crimes including extortion, loansharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud. Federal prosecutors say the syndicate operated in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey.
Matthewman questioned the federal government's 180-degree turn — documents filed last week that called Merlino a "danger to the community" and asked the judge to hold him without bail. Assistant U.S. Attorney Aurora Fagan couldn't explain the shift, saying it was a decision made in New York where the investigation is headquartered. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan declined comment.
Merlino has repeatedly beaten murder charges in past cases, but served nearly 12 years in prison for racketeering before being released in 2011. He went back to prison in 2014 for three months for violating his parole by socializing with Philadelphia mobster John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini at a Florida cigar bar.
Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Merlino has "been captured on recordings supervising a number of individuals, questioning whether certain associates were 'rats.'"
David Roth, Merlino's attorney, also assured Matthewman that his client will obey the conditions of his release, saying "I am a pretty good judge of character."
"Mr. Merlino knows he will be under a microscope and that if he commits any violations of the conditions of his release he will face the full consequences of the law," Roth said.