Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
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December 13–20, 2001


Debbie Did Who?

Joey Merlino’s wife showed up at a mob party and was the center of attention.

Reputed mob boss "Uncle Joe" Ligambi threw a party last Sunday night at Colleen’s Restaurant on the Ben Franklin Parkway. "It was a mob scene," one partygoer told City Paper. "A lot of reputed and alleged types. But the talk of the party was Deborah Merlino and the raid on her house last week."

Last week, three days after Joey Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison, agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office searched several locations in South Philadelphia, including Joey Merlino’s house. The agents also handed out subpoenas to a grand jury hearing scheduled for next month in Harrisburg. Deborah Merlino got one. And the man police found hiding under a bed in her house also got another. His name is William "Billy" Rinick, a wealthy South Philadelphia resident involved in real estate and, according to police sources, the boss of a large drug-trafficking organization. Law enforcement sources allege that Rinick’s organization is moving 30 kilograms of cocaine a week. Police sources claim that a grand jury is investigating Rinick’s drug organization as well as the homicide of one-time Rinick associate, Adam Finelli, who was found shot to death behind the wheel of his Cadillac on Halloween.

Rinick’s lawyer Eddie Jacobs did not return a call for comment.

Finelli was a South Philadelphia Jewish kid originally named Silver who had his name changed to fit in with his Italian-American friends. At the time of his murder, Finelli was running Nick’s Charcoal Pit restaurant on the 1200 block of Snyder and had recently moved back to the neighborhood after living in Northeast Philly for awhile.

Rinick, who lost a leg several years ago in an accident, wears a prosthetic. Police sources claim that Rinick’s fake leg was lying on the ground when they arrived and that they found Rinick hiding under a bed.

One law enforcement source claims that police staged this early morning search/raid and tipped off the news media to cover it to embarrass Deborah Merlino and publicly expose an alleged relationship between the two. "Rinick is between a rock and a hard place now," one cop said. "That’s where we want him. Either he cooperates and gives up his suppliers, or the mob kills him for fooling around with Merlino’s wife." The police source also says that Rinick will be charged within two weeks in the homicide of Adam FInelli.

Friends of Deborah Merlino have denied any improper relationship and told City Paper, "Billy is a close friend of the family, and he is Deborah’s bodyguard."

According to a person who attended Ligambi’s party last Sunday, everyone was surprised that Deborah Merlino showed up. "There’s two different groups of people now," the partygoer told City Paper. "Those that say they believe Billy was just Deborah’s bodyguard, and those that think there’s something more going on between them. Either way, everybody thinks its pretty embarrassing. Why was the one-legged bodyguard hiding under the bed? Why was he involving Joey’s wife in anything that would bring the cops to her house? He has a lot of questions to answer, and nobody really believes him."

Another mob source said, "Deborah has always been a little bit of a princess. She was kind of a little apart from everybody else, and it’s surprising that she would be friends with a guy like Billy Rinick. Rinick is not a very classy guy."

According to police sources, Rinick, who was convicted of having sex with two underage girls, often videotaped his sexual encounters, and some very embarrassing "sex tapes" are said to exist that document Rinick’s most recent encounters.

Merlino’s friends are united in their support of Joey Merlino, but divided in what they believe about Deborah’s situation.

One longtime Merlino pal said, "This has got to be killing Joey. He is all about reputation and appearance. Whether she was fooling around with Billy or not, the appearance is so bad. And that guy Billy, he’s already dead. He just doesn’t know it yet."

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