Joseph “Fat Joey” Merlino, owner of Bayshore Rebar, Inc., testified before the New Jersey Casino Control Commission Monday that he and his mother were being unfairly punished because of their notorious family name, which for decades has been associated with organized crime.
“They have a bad name and bad relatives,” said Merlino’s attorney John Donnelly.
“Fat Joey” said he has tried for years to distinguish himself from his infamous cousin, mob kingpin Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, who is currently in prison on racketeering charges.
The history of the Merlino family’s connection with mob activity goes deep. Both Merlino cousin’s fathers went to jail for racketeering. Lawrence “Yogi” Merlino and Salvatore “Chucky” Merlino owned a rebar company together that prosecutors said was a front for mob activity.
“There has to come a time when the fact that you were born under a black cloud no longer follows you,” Donnelly said.
This was the third time Merlino asked the commission to grant a license to the company he and his mother, Phyllis Merlino, own to do construction work for Atlantic City Casinos. Merlino was rejected in 1987 and 1996 on allegations that he is connected to the mob -- a claim which he emphatically denies.
The State Division of Gaming Enforcement again objected to granting the company a license saying Merlino is tied to people associated with mob activity. They based their argument on surveillance and information that dates back more than a decade.
“Under New Jersey Law, even if you’re not actually a criminal, even if you are not doing crimes, one cannot associate with people who are criminals,” said Anthony Zarrillo, a Division of Gaming Enforcement attorney.
Merlino, who has never been charged with a crime, said he has cut ties with those family members and runs a legitimate business.
Testimony is expected to resume later this week. A hearing examiner will make a recommendation and the Casino Control Commission will ultimately decide if Merlino gets a license. That decision could take a couple months.