Michael Persico is accusing the government of breaching an agreement in which he would face only 37 to 46 months in prison. Persico, son of crime boss Carmine (The Snake) Persico, pleaded guilty more than two years ago to loansharking in a deal that protected him from being prosecuted for several murders.
BY JOHN MARZULLI
The reputed prince of the Colombo crime family wants to rip up his guilty plea, the Daily News has learned.
Michael Persico, who pleaded guilty more than two years ago to loansharking in a sweet deal that also gave him immunity from prosecution for several murders, is accusing the government of breaching an agreement in which he would face only 37 to 46 months in prison when he's sentenced by hard-hitting Brooklyn Federal Judge Sandra Townes.
Persico, 57, the son of jailed Colombo boss Carmine (The Snake) Persico, is blanching at the possibility that he could get up to five years in prison. "He should just man up and do his time," said a disgusted law enforcement official.
Prosecutors argue that Persico is stuck with his guilty plea, but if he gets his wish he better be careful — he would go to trial facing murder conspiracy and extortion charges that could put him away for more than 20 years if he's convicted.
Defense lawyer Marc Fernich declined to comment on the legal strategy
By Jeremy Roebuck, Inquirer Staff Writer
Former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino could be headed back to prison mere days before his court-ordered supervision is scheduled to end this week if federal authorities have their way.
His probation officers say the 52-year-old ex-don violated the terms of his release in June with a night on the town with one of his former mob captains and two convicted felons in Boca Raton, Fla.
The terms of his probation prohibit Merlino from associating with convicted felons or members of La Cosa Nostra.
For Merlino, who publicly swore off the mob and moved to South Florida after his release from federal custody three years ago, the new allegation could bring an abrupt halt to postprison plans that range from opening a restaurant or bar to launching a late-in-life acting career.
Merlino's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, did not return calls for comment Saturday.
According to an affidavit filed in a Philadelphia federal court last week, authorities in Broward County, Fla., conducted surveillance on a June 18 dinner between Merlino and the ex-cons at an Old World Italian restaurant in a Boca Raton strip mall.
The foursome later departed for after-dinner drinks in the VIP area of the swank Havana Nights Cigar Bar & Lounge, the document states.
In attendance were John Ciancaglini, a mob captain convicted alongside Merlino in 2001; Brad Sirkin, a convicted fraudster and money launderer; and Frank Fiore, the cigar bar's owner, who has a record of his own.
Though it remains unclear why Florida authorities were surveilling Merlino at the time, he may have simply picked the wrong bar and the wrong drinking companions. A month after the former mob don quaffed drinks at Havana Nights, federal authorities raided the bar and charged Fiore in a conspiracy to sell counterfeit Xanax, Viagra, and steroids.
In a separate violation, probation officers say, Merlino refused in May to answer questions about one of his business transactions, a breach of a requirement that he provide any financial information sought by his monitors.
The new allegations come more than a decade after Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his conviction in a racketeering conspiracy case.
His sentence included a standard three-year term of postprison probation that is scheduled to end Thursday.
In the same case that sent him to prison, Merlino stood charged with more than half a dozen shootings, including those of a video-poker operator who refused to pay street tax, a rival mob leader, and the brother of a witness in an earlier mob trial.
The mobster denied the allegations, and jurors acquitted him of those counts.
Ever since, federal investigators have kept a close eye on his activities.
In late 2011, they sent a wired mob turncoat to secretly record a conversation with him at a Florida Dunkin' Donuts. They alleged in court filings that he still ran the Philadelphia mob.
In an interview last year with the website BigTrial.net, Merlino said he left all that behind the day he left prison and laid out big dreams for his next career move - a list that at the time included opening a Philly cheesesteak restaurant in Florida or cashing in on his colorful past with an acting career.
The Miami Herald's gossip columnist reported last week that Merlino had recently finalized plans to invest in a "high-end, South Philadelphia-style Italian place."
But the probation violation charge could throw all that into doubt.
It will require him to return to Philadelphia at least temporarily. U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick had not yet scheduled a date for a hearing.
Is Joey Merlino getting into the restaurant game?
By Molly Eichel
POSTED: SEPTEMBER 04, 2014
IS FORMER mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino getting into the restaurant business in Florida? GossipExtra.com, run by Miami Herald contributor/former New York Daily News reporter Jose Lambiet, seems to think so.
Lambiet reports that Merlino and investors will open a restaurant "in the heart of Boca Raton," which Merlino has called home since completing his 14-year prison stint for racketeering. Lambiet quotes business broker Daron Tersakyan, who was not familiar with Merlino but confirmed that investors "want to set up a high-end, South Philadelphia-style Italian place."
Maybe Merlino and Co. can get advice from Steve Martorano, the celeb chef and nephew of wiseguy Raymond "Long John" Martorano, who, after years of South Florida cooking, opened a namesake restaurant at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City.
I reached out to Eddie Jacobs, Merlino's attorney, about the possible venture. "I've heard tons of rumors about my client, but it's got rumor status, nothing more," Jacobs said.
When asked about the restaurant deal, Christopher Warren, Merlino's former attorney, said he knew nothing about it.
"But it wouldn't surprise me, because I know he was thinking about doing that," said Warren, who served as Merlino's co-counsel in a 2004 murder trial in New Jersey. Merlino was acquitted.
Merlino also told as much to former Inquirer reporter George Anastasia in an interview on BigTrial.net, lamenting that he could not find the proper rolls in South Florida.
Jerry Blavat, who has known Merlino since he was a kid, hadn't heard about the venture but thinks it's an excellent idea. "He's a smart, bright kid and I think he'll do really well," Blavat said.
Lambiet didn't mention a name for the spot and there's no listing under Merlino's name in the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations, so let's give him a helping hand. What do you think Merlino should name his eatery? Send your best response to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Merlino eatery" and I'll print my favorites in the paper tomorrow.
Cyber crime is grabbing the headlines these days, but the largest criminal gangs are still making most of their money from drugs, sex, and extortion.
It’s tough to go even a few months without seeing the effects of organized crime on the economy and everyday life. The most salient example these days is the rash of thefts of credit card data from big-name retail chains like Home Depot and Target.
While these threats are headline-grabbing and particularly frightening because e-commerce is a relatively new phenomenon and businesses and consumers aren’t totally sure how to protect themselves from hackers, it’s still a drop in the bucket in terms of overall organized crime earnings.
A 2013 survey from Javelin Strategy and Research estimates that the annual total loss to Americans due to identity theft was roughly $20 billion. But much of those costs comes from efforts to prevent identity theft or recover from its effects, rather than what thieves earn from their crimes. Compare that to estimates of pure revenue from other forms of organized crime like the drug trade and human trafficking: the Organization of American States estimates that the revenue for cocaine sales in the U.S. has reached $34 billion annually. When you add the market for other illicit drugs and revenue generators like human trafficking and extortion, it becomes clear that organized crime is still making most of its money from its legacy businesses, despite the fact that criminals are always looking for new ways to make a buck.
So, who are the biggest organized crime gangs around the world and how do they make their money? Organized crime revenues are very difficult to estimate, as criminals often spend a significant amount of time trying to hide what they make. Also, “organized crime” is a loosely defined concept. Anything from a vast drug smuggling ring to a handful of car thieves can be classified as organized crime groups, and the cohesiveness of organized crime organizations around the world varies widely. Some groups, like Japan’s Yakuza, are highly organized and hierarchical, allowing economists and crime fighters in Japan to attribute much higher revenue totals to Yakuza groups than others around the world. Here are the top five criminal gangs, ranked by revenue estimates:
1. Yamaguchi Guri—Revenue: $80 billion
The largest known gang in the world is called the Yamaguchi Guri, one of several groups collectively referred to in Japan as “Yakuza,” a term that is roughly equivalent to the American use of “mafia.” The Yamaguchi Guri make more money from drug trafficking than any other source, according to Hiromitsu Suganuma, Japan’s former national police chief. The next two leading sources of revenue are gambling and extortion, followed closely by “dispute resolution.”
The Yakuza date back hundreds of years, and according to Dennis McCarthy, author of An Economic History of Organized Crime, Yakuza groups are among the most centralized in the world. While other East Asian gangs like Chinese Triads, which are a loose conglomeration of criminals bonded together mostly by familial relations, Yakuza are bound together by “elaborate hierarchies,” and members, once initiated, must subvert all other allegiances in favor of the Yakuza. Even with the Japanese government cracking down on Yakuza in recent years, this centralized structure has made it easy to attribute a massive amount of revenue to this single gang.
2. Solntsevskaya Bratva—Revenue: $8.5 billion
Russian mafia groups sit on the other side of the organizational spectrum from Yakuza. Their structure, according to Frederico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford and an expert on international organized crime, is highly decentralized. The group is composed of 10 separate quasi-autonomous “brigades” that operate more or less independently of each other. The group does pool its resources, however, and the money is overseen by a 12-person council that “meets regularly in different parts of the world, often disguising their meetings as festive occasions,” Varesi says.
It’s estimated that the group claims upwards of 9,000 members, and that it’s bread and butter is the drug trade and human trafficking. Russian organized crime in general is heavily involved in the heroin trade that originates in Afghanistan: it’s estimated that Russia consumes about 12% of the world’s heroin, while it contains just 0.5% of the world’s population.
3. Camorra—Revenue: $4.9 billion
While the Italian-American mafia has been severely weakened in recent decades by law enforcement, the Italian mafia in the old country is still running strong. Despite years of efforts from citizens, journalists, and government officials, the local governments in Italy remain linked to and protective of various mafia groups, to the point where a 2013 study from the Università Cattolica and the Joint research Centre on Transnational Crime estimated that mafia activities generate revenue of $33 billion dollars, mostly divided among Italy’s four major mafia gangs.
Camorra is the most successful of these groups, raking in an estimated $4.9 billion per year on everything from “sexual exploitation, firearms trafficking, drugs, counterfeiting, gambling … usury and extortion,” according to the report. And Camorra has been at it a long time. Based in Naples, the group’s history dates back to the 19th century, when it was formed initially as a prison gang. As members were released, the group flourished during the bloody political struggles in Italy during the 1800s by offering protection services and as a force for political organization among Italy’s poor.
4. ‘Ndrangheta—Revenue: $4.5 billion
Based in the Calabria region of Italy, the ‘Ndarangheta is the country’s second largest mafia group by revenue. While it is involved in many of the same illicit activities as Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta has made its name for itself by building international ties with South American cocaine dealers, and it controls much of the transatlantic drug market that feeds Europe. It has also been expanding its operations in the U.S. and has helped prop up the Gambino and Bonnano crime families in New York. In February, Italian and American police forces arrested dozens of ‘Ndrangheta and Gambino family members and charged them with crimes related to the transatlantic drug trade.
5. Sinaloa Cartel—Revenue $3 billion
Sianola is Mexico’s largest drug cartel, one of several gangs that has been terrorizing the Mexican population as it serves as the middleman between South American producers of illegal drugs and an unquenchable American market. The White House Office of Drug Control Policy estimates that Americans spend $100 billion on illegal drugs each year, and the RAND Corporation says that about $6.5 billion of that reaches Mexican cartels. With an estimated 60% market share, Sinola cartel is raking in approximately $3 billion per year.
Despite the fact that Sinaloa’s leader was arrested February, the cartel seems to have avoided the sort of bloody—and costly—succession battle that has plagued some groups when a leader is taken out of commission.