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12-17-99
Fed up with Skinny Joey. Let's put a cork in mob coverage.

Jill Porter, Philadelphia Daily News

December 17, 1999

Well, it looks like they got Joey Merlino.

Again.

It seems like every month or two - hell, sometimes it seems like every day or two - there's a picture of handsome, smiling Joey being led off in handcuffs for some infraction or another. I don't know exactly what the infractions are, because I stopped reading the stories a long time ago.

And just when you think he's gone for a while and you can be spared any more information about him and his criminal endeavors, there's another picture of handsome, smiling Joey Merlino being let out on bail.

Now Joey is one media-savvy guy, but didn't anybody warn him about overexposure?

In this year alone, there were 151 stories in the Inquirer and Daily News that mentioned Merlino and his various enterprises - drugs, robberies, gambling, attempted mob hits and assorted other criminal acts.

Now, I like colorful characters as much as anybody else, but Skinny Joey gets more press coverage than most of the city's prominent civic leaders put together. (Maybe it would help if our respected citizens had catchy nicknames - like, say, Charlie "Little Chuck-Chuck" Pizzi at the Chamber of Commerce, or Stephanie "Baby-Doll" Naidoff at the Regional Performing Arts Center.)

The media in this town is totally smitten with the Mafia - there were cameras and reporters everywhere today at the U.S. attorney's press conference announcing the latest litany of charges against Merlino. Say "mob indictment" and we will come.

We report every noteworthy move Skinny Joey makes, document his family life, write lavish articles about his annual holiday party for needy kids, as if he were just a harmless eccentric who's misunderstood by those nasty folks in law enforcement.

Merlino has made this possible, of course, by allowing us access and by basking in the publicity.

And so, on the one hand, we write heartfelt screeds against violence and drugs and all things criminal, and then we romanticize creeps like Merlino and his boys who run the criminal organization behind much of this stuff.

We're aided in the image-laundering by folks like Cheri Honkala of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, who was delighted with the $7,000 donation and skads of toys Merlino gave to needy kids through her organization at his holiday party this year.

Honkala is a passionate voice for the disaffected and the disenfranchised and if there's a demonstration against injustice anywhere, she's at the head of it. She even got herself arrested in Seattle a couple of weeks ago in the protests against the World Trade Organization.

But she apparently has no qualms about the source of Skinny Joey's charity funds.

When a Daily News reporter asked where she thought Merlino got the money to fund his generous holiday party, she didn't care to speculate.

"I don't know anything about that," she said.

"I think it's a shame that Joey's not here," she added.

Joey couldn't attend his party this year - his family threw it in his absence - because he was otherwise occupied. Behind bars.

And it's beginning to look as if Skinny Joey may be behind bars a long time.

Merlino was charged yesterday in a theft-and-drug-racketeering ring that may earn him, if convicted, a life sentence. And apparently there may be even worse to come.

Some folks are even saying this might be the end of the road for Joey Merlino.

What? No more pictures of smiling Joey coming and going to jail with a chagrined look on his face, as if he were just a naughty boy caught passing notes in study hall?

Not a moment too soon for me.




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