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October 2022


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

News Story

An Offer Philly Mob Boss ‘Skinny Joey’ Couldn’t Refuse

Jerry Capeci is regarded as an expert on the mob. His website, Gang Land News, is a subscription-based website. This article was republished with permission.

Gang Land photo

By Jerry Capeci
Gang Land News

In the end, it was an offer Philadelphia mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino couldn’t refuse. After battling federal  prosecutors to a draw in a hard-fought racketeering trial earlier this year, the flamboyant 56-year-old life-long gambler has decided that the better bet is to take a plea deal with the government for the first — and he hopes the only time — in a long and storied career of forcing the law to prove its case before a jury of his peers.

A very important reason was that the usually hard-driving prosecutors in the so-called Sovereign District of New York agreed to give Skinny Joey an amazingly sweet plea deal — a guarantee that the most severe prison term the mob boss could receive from a judge who has publicly stated that he was a major organized crime figure is two years behind bars. None of the 44 other lesser ranked wiseguys and mobs associates who copped plea deals rather than go to trial — not even the minor defendants who pleaded guilty to selling untaxed cigarettes — was allowed to plead guilty to a charge carrying a maximum sentence of two years behind bars. As Skinny Joey well knows, it could have been worse.

The gambling and fraud charges listed in the four-count indictment against him could have brought a prison sentence of 10 years given Merlino’s two prior federal convictions and his designation in the case as one of the leaders of an East Coast La Cosa Nostra Enterprise.

Despite the great deal, several sources have told Gang Land that Merlino was on the fence about taking the government’s offer. Skinny Joey, whose lawyer described him at trial as a “degenerate gambler,” wanted to go to trial again, but the thought of what a loss would have meant to his family convinced him to take the deal.

Merlino has an older daughter graduating from college in a few weeks and his  younger daughter is on schedule to graduate in two years. If his sentencing falls right, he hopes to still be free for the first graduation and to have finished his latest prison term in time for the next one. His change of tune — “The only thing I’ll accept is an apology” was what he was telling associates after his mistrial — stems in part from advice from close friends, but also from his realization that he and his attorneys would not be able to present what they felt were some of their best arguments to the jury. During the trial, his lawyers were barred from playing any secretly recorded conversations in which Merlino disavowed his mob connections and in which he said he would not get involved in anything illegal.

Ruled Inadmissable

Those comments, in conversations with key government informant John (JR) Rubeo, were ruled inadmissible by Judge Richard Sullivan. Sullivan ruled the comments were self-serving and proved nothing. Merlino realized it was unlikely the judge would rule differently in a retrial. Sources say Merlino has apparently agreed to plead guilty to one gambling charge — placing bets via the Internet.

Three more serious charges, tied to medical insurance fraud and bookmaking , as well as the most serious charge, racketeering conspiracy, will be dropped, the sources say. And Merlino’s sentencing guideline range will be between 10 and 16 months, those same sources say.

He is scheduled to appear before Judge Sullivan on April 27 to enter the plea. A sentencing hearing would be scheduled sometime after that. In his prior skirmishes with the law, Skinny Joey has been convicted of an armored truck robbery and of racketeering. He was acquitted of murder, attempted murder and drug dealing charges. After his release to a halfway house in Florida in 2012, Merlino insisted that he was leaving his life of crime behind.

Gang Land photo

But federal authorities have a different perspective. They argue that despite relocating to Boca Raton, the transplanted South Philadelphia corner boy has continued to run the Philadelphia crime family. In the current case Merlino was identified as the boss of the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra, an allegation he has continued to deny.

Merlino has told associates that he was unjustly targeted in the case because of his reputation and alleged standing in the underworld. He has portrayed himself as a victim of overzealous prosecutors and less than reliable mob informants who were using him as a get-out-of-jail-free card. In addition to the sweetened federal offer — and a chance to be home for both his daughters’ graduations — reports that many jurors had been leaning toward conviction likely play a role in his decision. Court room sources placed the votes at 10-2 and 9-3 for conviction on insurance fraud and bookmaking charges even though Rubeo, the prosecution’s key witness, came across as less than credible under heavy cross-examination by Merlino’s long time, Atlantic City-based lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr.

But as is often the case in mob trials, it was the tapes that appeared to be Merlino’s undoing. The credibility and motivation of cooperating witnesses like Rubeo can easily be challenged. JR was described by Jacobs in his opening statement to the jury as “an arch criminal,” a mob associate who began cooperating after getting jammed up in a major cocaine trafficking case that could have landed the 43-year-old in jail for life.

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Majority of Republicans Believe FBI, DOJ Are ‘Framing’ Trump

Special counsel Robert Mueller

By Steve Neavling

A majority of Republicans believe the FBI is conspiring to frame President Trump as part of the special counsel investigation into connections between his campaign and Russia, according to a new poll from YouGov released Wednesday

Participants were asked, “Do you believe Donald Trump is being framed by the FBI and the Department of Justice?”

The survey found that 61% of Republicans believe he is. Only 17% of Republicans think Trump is not being framed, while 21% are unsure.

Overall, though, only 29% of Americans believe the FBI and Justice Department are conspiring to frame the president.

The poll surveyed 1,500 American adults in early May.

The survey had a margin of error of 3%.

FBI Captures Georgia Man Wanted in 1996 Murder

By Steve Neavling

Hector Ulises Garay spent 22 years running from charges that he murdered a Georgia man during an attempted robbery.

The 51-year-old fugitive is now behind bars after he was captured in El Salvador, where members of the FBI’s Atlanta Metro Major Offender Task Force picked him up and transported him back to Atlanta. He’s now lodged in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond on murder charges. 

Border agents in Central America flagged Garay when he tried to travel from El Salvador to Honduras.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. These fugitives never go off our radar,” FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson to Fox 5 News

Gary is accused of murdering Adalberto Salines during an attempted robbery at Salines’ home on Jan. 21, 1996.

According to the FBI, Garay shot and killed Salines when he wouldn’t let him in the home. “We don’t believe people should get away with murder,” Rowson said. 

Other Stories of Interest

Watch: Border Patrol Vehicle Erupts in Flames; Authorities Investigate Cause

Border Patrol vehicles erupts in flames.

By Steve Neavling

A Border Patrol vehicle erupted in flames Tuesday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz., and it was all captured on video.

The fire broke out on eastbound Interstate 10.

The agent was able to escape the vehicle without injury.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety is investigating the cause.

Business with Ties to Russian Oligarch Paid Cohen’s Shell Company $500,000

Longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

By Steve Neavling

An American company with connections to a Russian oligarch made a $500,000 payment to a shell company that President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, used to pay hush money to a porn film star.

The New York Times reports that the shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, had transactions of at least $4.4 million. The company was launched shortly before Trump was elected president in November 2016 and continued to operate until at least this January, according to records.

CNN and other news outlets reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment firm whose biggest client is Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

A lawyer for the company told the New York times that the payment was unrelated to Vekselberg and was part of a consulting fee.

Fortune 500 companies that had business before the president also made payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Essential Consultants.

The Times reported:

References to the transactions first appeared in a document posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star who was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. The lawyer’s seven-page document, titled “Preliminary Report of Findings,” does not explain the source of his information but describes in detail dates, dollar amounts and parties involved in various dealings by Mr. Cohen and his company. Most of the transactions involved two banks: First Republic Bank and City National Bank.

The Times’s review of financial records confirmed much of what was in Mr. Avenatti’s report. In addition, a review of documents and interviews shed additional light on Mr. Cohen’s dealings with the company connected to Mr. Vekselberg, who was stopped and questioned at an airport earlier this year by investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Taken together, The Times’s findings and Mr. Avenatti’s report offer the most detailed picture yet on Mr. Cohen’s business dealings and financial entanglements in the run-up to the election and its aftermath. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank fraud and election-law violations, among other matters, according to people briefed on the investigation. Stephen Ryan, a lawyer representing Mr. Cohen, declined to comment.

White S.C. Man Tried to Hire Hitman to Hang Black Neighbor, Burn Cross in Yard

Brandon Cory Lecroy

By Steve Neavling

A white South Carolina man wanted to hire someone to kill and hang his black neighbor and then place a “flaming cross” in his yard.

Little did he know, the man he tried to hire turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, according tot he U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Slate reports that Brandon Cory Lecroy, 25, was  charged with solicitation to commit a crime of violence and use of interstate commerce facilities int he commission of murder-for-hire.

Police said the Greenwood County man found the undercover agent through a white supremacist group and offered $500 for the murder.

Lecroy told the agent he wanted “hang his neighbor from a tree” and have a “burning cross” staked in the front yard. Authorities said Lecroy even advised the agent of the best time to murder his neighbor and offered money for future murders.

Lecroy, who was arrested after he provided a $100 down payment to murder his neighbor, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Interior Department Dispatching Officers to Help Secure Border with Mexico

Border marker, via Border Patrol.

By Steve Neavling

The Interior Department is dispatching officers to help secure the border with Mexico.

Officers from the U.S. Park Police Planning Unit (USPP) and the National Park Service will help Homeland Security along the southwest border beginning May 13 as part of “Secretary [Ryan] Zinke’s offer of assistance to the Department of Homeland Security,” according to an internal email obtained by The Hill

The assignment is a dramatic departure from what USPP officers are traditionally tasked with doing – policing NPS property in Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco.

According to the email, officers will spend about three weeks stationed at two national parks and monument sites along the border – Amsted National Recreation Area in Texas and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona.

Dispatching officers from the federal agencies is “the first of many steps Interior will take to secure the homeland.”

President Trump and I are 100 percent committed to keeping our border communities and the American people safe and secure, which is why I’m deploying some of Interior’s law enforcement officers to increase security on the southern border,” Zinke told the Hill in a statement. “Interior is ready, willing, and able to deploy a significant force to carry out the President’s mission.” 

FBI Investigating 2 Separate Attacks on Border Patrol Agents

By Steve Neavling

The FBI is investigating two attacks against Border Patrol agents in south Laredo.

One case involves drug smugglers who chucked rebar spikes at agents. In the second case, human smugglers are accused of striking an agent with a Chevrolet Suburban, the Laredo Morning Times reports. 

In the first case, occupants of another Suburban were approached by agents attempting to perform a vehicle stop. The occupants threw handmade rebar spikes at the agents, strike and damaging a Border Patrol vehicle.

The occupants were arrested, and agents said they found four bundles of marijuana worth an estimated $225,000.

In the second case, agents were pursuing a gray Chevrolet Suburban for failing to yield to a Border patrol vehicle. An agent was taken to the hospital after being injured when the Suburban crashed into the Border Patrol vehicle. All six occupants were immediately apprehended.

“These events illustrate the dangers the men and women of the United States Border Patrol face every day in securing our border. Criminal organizations have no regard for human life and pose a threat to law enforcement and the community,” said Laredo Sector Acting Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Anthony Scott Good.