The ex-Philadelphia organized crime head, now 52 and a Boca resident since 2012, is scheduled to get off his three-year supervised release next month, a rehabilitation period tacked on his 14-year prison sentence for racketeering.
Obviously, Merlino now wants to hit the ground running after swearing off a life of crime because, he said in a recent interview, “too many rats” surround him.
Two sources in the real estate business who asked not to be named tell me Merlino will be heavily involved in a restaurant that’s supposed to open at 39 SE First Avenue by year’s end.
The location was made famous by the original Matteo’s, and lately was occupied by the shuttered up Segreto.
The investors have already inked a three-year deal with the property owner, a company linked to controversial Palm Beach County landowner Jim Batmasian.
Daron Tersakyan, who worked on the deal for Batmasian, said he isn’t familiar with Merlino’s name but confirmed the deal with investors who “want to set up a high-end, South Philadelphia-style Italian place.”
Tersakyan promised to call back with more information but hasn’t.
Lewis Kasman, who also retired in the Boca area after working for famed New York crime boss John Gotti then turning FBI informant, said he’s been questioned by law enforcement about the venture.
“I can’t confirm nor deny that Joey is opening his own place, but I’ve been questioned about it by law enforcement over the past week,” Kasman said.
Because he is a convicted felon, Merlino cannot obtain a liquor license under his own name.
But in his latest interview with a reporter last year, Merlino said he was looking for investment opportunities. Merlino talked to Philly mob writer George Anastasia about opening restaurants, cafes, a Philly cheese steak shop and a cigar bar.