ATLANTIC CITY - Joseph N. Merlino acknowledged yesterday that both his late father and a cousin with whom he shares a name were high-profile organized-crime figures.
But that didn't make him or other members of his family mobsters, he said in testimony before a Casino Control Commission hearing examiner.
"We never did anything wrong," said Merlino. "We go to work every day."
Merlino's comments came shortly after he took the witness stand in an ongoing hearing into whether he, his mother, and the company they own, Bayshore Rebar of Pleasantville, should be granted a casino service-industry license.
The hearing is to resume on Monday with Merlino, 43, back on the stand.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, citing suspected organized-crime ties, is opposing the license application, which would permit Bayshore to do casino construction work.
The company has been denied a license twice in the past, first in 1989 and again in 1996, because of suspected mob ties.
But both Merlino and his mother, Phyllis, who testified Friday, said they had been unfairly labeled by the DGE because of the criminal records of other members of their family.
Phyllis Merlino was divorced from mobster Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino in 1977.
Joseph N. Merlino testified he had little contact with his father while growing up and emphatically denied that his father, who also owned a rebar company, steered work to Bayshore Rebar after it was set up in 1985.
Lawrence Merlino was convicted of racketeering in 1988 and later became a cooperating government witness. He died in 2001 while living in another part of the country in the witness-protection program.
In a detailed cross-examination that began yesterday afternoon and is to continue on Monday, Assistant Attorney General Anthony J. Zarrillo Jr. quizzed Merlino about his relationships with his father, his cousin Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, and Anthony Giraldi, whom the DGE has identified as a mob associate.
Merlino described Giraldi as a "plumber from South Philly" and said they had been friends since about 2001. He said they had frequently socialized during the summer months.
He said that he did not believe Giraldi had any ties to organized crime, but that he reluctantly stopped socializing with him last year because of the DGE's allegations.
He also said that he, his mother, and his brothers and sisters decided about eight years ago to "sever all ties with my father's side of the family" because of the alleged mob associations.
He said he decided in 1999 after "Skinny Joey" Merlino was arrested that "if we want a license, we have to separate ourselves from that side of the family."
He said when other members of his family protested that "we never did anything wrong, I told them, 'We could say that until we're blue in the face. It don't mean nothing.' "
During his direct testimony, Merlino detailed the construction work Bayshore has done over the last 20 years for other government agencies and high-profile clients.
The company, he said, has done work for nuclear-power plants, hospitals, colleges, and universities, and even laid the reinforcing rods for a construction project on a New Jersey State Police building.
Earlier in yesterday's hearing, former FBI Agent Gary Langan, called as a witness for Bayshore, testified that neither he nor any cooperating witnesses he had ever debriefed knew of any connections between Bayshore and organized crime.
Langan, who retired in 1996, worked for nearly 20 years on all the major mob cases in Philadelphia, including the investigation that brought down mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and Lawrence Merlino.