Trump posed for photo with ex-Philly mob boss Joey Merlino
Palm Beach, Florida - Former President Donald Trump posed with former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in a photo taken earlier in January at a South Florida golf course.
The photo, obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer, shows Trump and Merlino, along with an unidentified third man, flashing the ex-president's customary "thumbs-up" and smile.
"President Trump takes countless photos with people. That does not mean he knows every single person he comes in contact with," a Trump spokesperson said after the Inquirer shared a copy of the pic with his campaign.
The spokesperson did not respond when asked if Trump knew Merlino, or his background.
Asked about the picture, the ex-mobster told Philadelphia Enquirer Chris Brennan that Trump "had no idea who I was."
"He takes pictures with everybody. He’s the nicest guy in the world."
Merlino was a leader of a violent crew on his way up to being boss of an organized crime operation active in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, and has made clear in the past that he admires Trump.
"Skinny Joey" Merlino previously echoed Trump's comments
Merlino was convicted in 2001 in a racketeering case and served a decade in federal prison. He had claimed more recently to have left that life behind, moving to Boca Raton in Florida to work as maître d' at an Italian restaurant named after him.
The restaurant closed after Merlino's most recent run-in with the feds, which led to a two-year sentence in October 2018 when he pleaded guilty to a gambling-related charge. After being sentenced, the 60-year-old echoed comments from Trump at the time that were critical of witnesses who cooperate with federal investigators.
"President Trump is right – they've got to outlaw the flippers," said Merlino, who was released from prison in July 2020.
Trump in August 2018 said the practice of prosecutors "flipping" people accused of crimes into witnesses who testify against others "almost ought to be illegal" after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a campaign finance crime – paying women to keep quiet about affairs they had with Trump – and implicated his former client.
Merlino was pulled into Trump's orbit in the weeks after the 2020 general election when a website known for trafficking in misinformation falsely claimed he had been paid $3 million to help Joe Biden win Philadelphia with thousands of fake ballots.
Jordan Sekulow, an attorney who had served in late 2019 and early 2020 on Trump's legal team for his first impeachment, gave that false claim a public boost by tweeting a link to the website.
The claim was swiftly debunked by several media organizations, including Fox News. Even the disgraced Rudy Giuliani called the claim "far-fetched."
Cover photo: Collage: Screenshot/Instagram/Joey Merlino & JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP