46 charged after sweep of East Coast crime syndicate suspects
US prosecutors have charged 46 people with being part of an East Coast crime syndicate, including an old-school mobster in New York and a reputed chief in Philadelphia who has been pursued by the government for decades.
The indictment accuses the defendants of a litany of classic mafia crimes, including extortion, loan-sharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud.
It said the syndicate operated in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey.
Among those charged was Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, the flamboyant alleged head of the Philadelphia mob who has repeatedly beat murder charges in past cases, but served nearly 12 years in prison for racketeering.
Also named in the indictment was Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello, identified as a long-time member of the Genovese crime family and the owner of an Italian restaurant in New York City.
Parrello, 72, pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges at his arraignment in federal court in Manhattan.
He was detained without bail after prosecutors argued in court papers that he was a danger because of his "appetite and capacity for vengeance, control, and violence".
Merlino was also held without bail at a hearing in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Prosecutors said 39 of those charged were arrested on Thursday. Alleged members of four New York crime families were among the defendants. During the arrests, agents seized three handguns, a shotgun, gambling paraphernalia and more than 30,000 dollars (£23,000) in cash.
Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI's New York office, said the indictment "reads like an old school mafia novel".
One count accuses Parrello, 72, of ordering the beating in 2011 of a beggar he believed was harassing female customers outside his restaurant, Pasquale Rigoletto, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
"Break his ... knees," he said, according to prosecutors. Although no one was kneecapped, the beggar was "assaulted with glass jars, sharp objects and steel-tipped boots, causing bodily harm", the court papers said.
Prosecutors also said that in 2013, Parrello ordered retaliation against a man who stabbed a member of his crew outside a Bronx bar.
After an associate agreed to "whack" the attacker, Parrello cautioned him to "keep the pipes handy and pipe him, pipe him, over here (gesturing to the knees), not on his head", court papers said.
Merlino, 54, who became a restaurateur in Boca Raton, Florida, following his release from prison, was implicated in a health care fraud scheme with Parrello and others. Investigators said the conspirators got corrupt doctors to bill insurers for unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound creams in exchange for kickbacks.
A magistrate in West Palm Beach ordered Merlino held without bail pending a detention hearing on Tuesday. In papers arguing against his release, prosecutors said he "been captured on recordings supervising a number of individuals, questioning whether certain associates were 'rats'".
In Massachusetts, five alleged associates of the New York-based Genovese crime family were arrested on extortion-related charges as part of the sweep. Four men were arrested in New Jersey.
Like Merlino, several other defendants, including Parrello, have records of mob-related convictions and prison time. One of the lesser-known defendants, Bradford Wedra, interrupted a hearing on Thursday where he pleaded not guilty to complain to the judge that he was broke after completing a 25-year sentence in another case.
"Now, I'm home and I can't afford nothing," he said before he was given a court-appointed lawyer.