Mob Boss Joey Merlino's South Florida Connection - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Mob Boss Joey Merlino's South Florida Connection

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A look at Joey Merlino's new home in South Florida. A look at Joey Merlino's new home in South Florida.
"The Mobster Next Door," written by Julie Brown, was featured recently in the Miami Herald. "The Mobster Next Door," written by Julie Brown, was featured recently in the Miami Herald.

Mob Boss Joey Merlino's fellow wiseguys are on trial here in federal court in Philadelphia on racketeering charges, but while they fight for their freedom, Merlino is living it up in South Florida.

We traveled to the sunshine state a few weeks back to see what Philadelphia's most talked about mob boss is up to.

It's not hard to find the good life in South Florida, the sun, the sand, the beautiful women and of course the night life. Fresh off more than a decade in federal prison for racketeering, you might say South Philadelphia Mob Boss Joey Merlino has stepped in it.

"He's all wound up in the lifestyle, but 11-years in the can, in a 4-by-8 jail cell, will make you daydream a lot," says former organized crime investigator Mike Russell, who's now retired in South Florida.

"He lives in the biggest, nicest one on the block yeah," says Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown.

Living 'Fat'

The guy they called "Skinny Joey" is living "fat" these days.

Twenty months after leaving his prison cell, this is Joey' new home. A $400,000, three story townhouse in Boca Raton. It's just a few minutes from the beach, the casinos and the nightlife Joey missed during his time behind bars. Merlino drives a brand new Cadillac Escalade, owner unknown. Insiders say he visits all the hottest night spots in Boca and nearby Delray Beach.

"He's all over Boca, establishing the fact that he's a celebrity gangster," Russell says.

"Trying to network, I guess, is the best way to describe it," Brown added.

Russell, a retired New Jersey undercover organized crime investigator, has spent months watching Merlino make the rounds in South Florida. He thinks the local wiseguys aren't too happy with Merlino's presence here.

"He's trying to connect with whoever he can connect with and get something going here. He's striking out left and right," Russell says.

Brown, an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald, wrote a front page story on Merlino a few weeks back. She says at least one high ranking local mobster told her Merlino's not wanted here.

"He's just gonna have to tread pretty lightly and make sure he doesn't step on anybody's toes," she said.

Mob sources say Joey left prison with a silver spoon in his mouth, using his mob connections inside the joint to get hooked up on the outside with some big money locals. Sources say Joey's new friends don't mind doling out stacks of cash to hob knob with the story-telling former "Dapper Don" of Passyunk Avenue.

"We kind of grew up hearing these stories, knowing about all the hits, but the people who have been down here, they don't come from Philadelphia. This is all new territory for them," Brown says.

Underworld sources in South Florida say Joey likes the local cigar bars with the luxury cars parked right outside. Some say he's been hitting the casino floor at the new Seminole Hard Rock casino and partying at nightclubs like Passion on the casino grounds. One local businessman owns the home where Joey lives and another helped put him to work when he was released from prison.

"He's pretty well set up," Brown says.

"Somebody lined up these two guys, these free rides for the guy," Russell added.

Sources tell FOX 29, Merlino celebrated his 50th birthday last March with a big "invitation only" party at the exclusive Boca Beach Club Resort that towers over downtown Boca. One source tells us the birthday bash was held in a two level suite on the 26th floor. Security's so tight here, even mob investigators had trouble doing surveillance.

Staying Quiet

But getting the bulked up wiseguy to comment on all this is difficult these days.

In fact Joey wouldn't even open the front door when we went to see him recently. His Escalade sped off when we tried to pursue him. Days later he surfaced in Los Angeles on TMZ wisecracking his way through an on camera paparazzi-like airport interview.

"From what I understand from the neighbors there was a lot of loud Sinatra music played in the middle of the night," says Brown, a former Daily News reporter here in Philly. She says while working on her front page splash on Merlino, the so called "Mobster next door", it was clear Joey makes the neighbors nervous.

"Needless to say, they were a little rattled," she says.

Since the Miami Herald story, neighbors told us Joey has gone off the radar. He got the headline and went into hiding. But Joey still has the attention of law enforcement.

"Some of the people he is associating with are pretty...I'm sure the police are watching them," Brown explained.

FOX 29s Dave Schratwieser asked Russell if he thought Merlino could run the mob in Philadelphia from South Florida.

"No, I don't think he could run the mob in South Philly from South Philly to be honest with you," he said.

Brown warns that Merlino should be careful.

"There's no sense of loyalty here and I think he's going to have trouble with that. He better learn that right away. You really shouldn't trust anybody down here," she said.

Merlino never broke his silence in Florida and he turned down our requests for an interview.

The FBI in Miami also refused our request for an interview on Merlino.

Just last week, he made his return to Philadelphia for his father's funeral. But it didn't stop him from being around his old mob crew.

We'll have more on Merlino's return to Philadelphia next Monday night on FOX 29 News at 10.

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