Nearly four dozen suspects, including the reputed Mafia boss in Philadelphia and an old-school mobster in New York, were arrested on Thursday in a massive case charging them with wanting to break knees and commit other crimes that sound like something from a Martin Scorsese movie.
An indictment filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan accused the defendants of extortion, loansharking, casino-style gambling, sports gambling, credit card fraud and health care fraud. It said they formed a syndicate operating in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Among those charged was Joseph "Joey" Merlino, the flamboyant alleged head of the Philadelphia mob who is known for beating murder charges in past cases. Also named in the indictment was Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello, identified as a longtime member of the Genovese organized crime family in New York City.
Merlino's longtime lawyer, Ed Jacobs, declined to comment on the allegations, saying he hadn't yet studied the indictment.
Prosecutors said 39 of those charged were arrested on Thursday. During the arrests, agents recovered three handguns, a shotgun, gambling paraphernalia and more than $30,000 in cash.
The indictment "reads like an old school Mafia novel, where extortion, illegal gambling, arson and threats to 'whack' someone are carried out along with some modern-day crimes," such as credit card skimming, said Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI's New York office.
One count accuses the 72-year-old Parrello of ordering a beatdown in 2011 of a panhandler he believed was harassing female customers outside his restaurant in the Bronx, telling a cohort to "break his ... knees." The panhandler was "located and assaulted with glass jars, sharp objects and steel-tipped boots, causing bodily harm," the court papers say.
Afterward one of his cohorts was recorded saying, "Remember the old days in the neighborhood when we used to play baseball? . . . A ball game like that was done," the papers say.
Prosecutors also detailed how in 2013, Parello 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," the papers say.
Merlino, 54, was implicated in a health care fraud scheme with Parrello and others that got corrupt doctors to bill insurers for unnecessary and excessive prescriptions for expensive compound creams in exchange for kickbacks.
In Massachusetts, five alleged associates of the New York-based Genovese crime family were arrested on extortion-related charges as part of the sweep.
The indictment does not appear to be connected to the arrest of the 23-year-old grandson of the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti.