It looks like an encore is planned for U.S. District Court in the ongoing Skinny Joey Merlino saga.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued a one-page ruling this morning denying a motion by Merlino's lawyer seeking to have his probation violation voided. Instead, Surrick set a hearing on the issues for Friday at 10 a.m.
Merlino, who has been living in Boca Raton for the past three years, drew a media horde when he appeared earlier this month for the first hearing in the case. That proceeding focused on a motion filed by defense attorneys Edwin Jacobs Jr. and Michael Myers who argued that federal authorities had failed to properly notify Merlino of the alleged violations.
Merlino, they said, had not been given a summons to appear in court prior to the expiration of his three-year probation. Prosecutors argued that the practice in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was to file a notice of a violation rather than issue a summons. Merlino and his lawyer were informed on Sept. 2, five days before Merlino's probationary period ended, that a notice was to be filed and a hearing scheduled. Merlino's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., asked for a delay in setting a hearing date so that he could check his case load. The formal notice was not filed until Sept. 16.
Surrick, in a 13-page opinion filed later today, accepted the government's position, ruling that
"Merlino cannot complain that the official September 16, 2014, Notice was issued untimely...because it not was issued until the 16th at his request. Moreover, Merlino cannot credibly argue that he did not receive proper notice of his alleged violations and hearing prior to the expiration of his supervised release term. On September 2, 2014, Merlino was properly given notice of the alleged violations and received the opportunity to schedule the hearing at his availability."
Surrick's ruling sets the stage for a return trip to Philadelphia by the one-time celebrity mob boss.
The hearing on Friday will focus on the specific charges leveled against Merlino. These include his failure to respond to questions about his financial dealings with an alleged mob figure and his association and meeting with mobsters and convicted felon, both violations of the supervised release.
Merlino, 52, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in 2001 and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He served about 12 years before being released to a halfway house in Florida where he subsequently relocated.
He has been living in the Boca Raton area for the last three years and is currently involved in the opening of an Italian restaurant. The establishment will be called -- what else? - Merlino's and will offer "South Philadelphia-style" Italian cooking, according to the one-time mob boss.
Merlino, in an interview last year, insisted he has left the mob life behind and is trying for a fresh start in the Sunshine State. Law enforcement authorities are skeptical.
The probation violations cited in the pending case include Merlino's refusal to answer a question about his financial dealings with a suspected mob figure during a deposition taken in May. The deposition was part of a civil inquiry launched by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia into Merlino's finances.
Authorities are skeptical about Merlino's claims of employment. His lawyer said he works in sales and advertising. The feds want to know how he has managed to live a comfortable lifestyle -- living in a posh condo and driving a late model SUV -- since his release from prison.
The second violation alleges that Merlino knowingly associated with mob figures and convicted felons on June 18. Under surveillance at the time of detectives from the Broward County Sheriff's Department, Merlino was spotted meeting with John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini and two other felons in the parking lot of a restaurant. The detectives then followed the group to Havana Nights, a popular cigar bar, where they reported that Merlino, Ciancaglini and the others were socializing in the VIP section of the bar.
Ciancaglini, a mob capo in the Philadelphia crime family, was convicted with Merlino in the 2001 case. While Merlino has claimed that he is no longer involved with the crime family, law enforcement sources have speculated that he continues to play a role and that he periodically receives cash from mob gambling and loansharking operations in the Philadelphia area.
Ciancaglini and Steve Mazzone, another co-defendant in the 2001 case, have been identified as two local mob leaders overseeing what remains of the Merlino organization.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.