Fmr. mob boss' prison release raises questions

March 2, 2011 8:50:01 PM PST
49-year-old former crime boss Joey Merlino has been in prison for over a decade for his conviction on racketeering charges.

After years in jail, he is now being let out. His tentative release date is March 15th.

His lawyer, Ed Jacobs, believes the Merlino walking out of jail is a different person than the man who walked in.

"He's healthy, the only difference is, he's a little older, his hair is a little shorter...he's been exercising regularly; he's in terrific physical shape," Ed Jacobs, Merlino's lawyer, said.

A recent photo provided by Jacobs to Action News shows Merlino with his wife, Deborah, his two daughters and his mother, Rita.

Jacobs says Merlino now plans to change his life around for the sake of his family.

Jacobs tells Action News Merlino will go to a halfway house near Boca Raton, Florida.

"He's going to be living with his wife and his two beautiful young daughters in Florida where he's got a position offered to him. He's going to be living and working in Florida," Jacobs said.

Merlino, a publicity hound who loved the spotlight, was known as Philadelphia's first celebrity mobster. He was also known for holding annual Christmas parties for needy children and giving Thanksgiving turkeys to low-income families.

Some wonder if Merlino has missed the spotlight and may want to cash in on a favor from his former mob associates.

"Well you know, he's been loyal, he did his time, he kept his mouth shut and certainly he's owed something by the mob. It used to be if you were good, you went to prison, you kept your mouth shut, when you got out, you got a nice job," John Apeldorn of the Citizens Crime Commission said.

Apeldorn was the former head of Homicide and the Organized Crime Unit of the Philadelphia Police back during the Merlino era. He notes that Merlino's mobster father Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino is still in prison serving a 45 year sentence. Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi is now reputed to be running things in the Philadelphia mob.

If Merlino wants in, Apeldorn says, there could be trouble.

"It's always possible. You take a look at history, I mean, even when he was in there, there was some violence that was played," Apeldorn said.

But as far as Merlino's lawyer is concerned, Jacobs says "that's history."

"Head of the Philadelphia mob was the 80's and 90's, it's now in the 2000's and he is now Joey Merlino, private citizen, husband and father," Jacobs added.

As for returning to Philadelphia some day, Jacobs says don't rule that out just yet.

"Look, his roots are Philadelphia, spent a lot of time down the shore, you know, he's got family members here and lots of friends and I'm sure he would like to," Jacobs said.

Jacobs notes that what Merlino may like to do and what's good for him and family are a little different right now. He for one is hoping that in the long run, he'll do the smart thing and stay out of Philadelphia.