The claim was far fetched: that the Philly mob delivered thousands of votes for Joe Biden. The person claiming it was even less believable: a known misinformation merchant.
A Buffalo blog notorious for peddling election misinformation has captured the attention of top Trump supporters with a bizarre tale of the Philly mob swinging the election for Biden.
Matthew Ricchiazzi runs the Buffalo Chronicle, a fake news site that’s been masquerading as a real newspaper since 2014. He hit what counts as the big time for crank sites with a handful of dubious and debunked stories about Canadian elections. Now, thanks to some credulous amplification by plugged-in Trumpsters, he’s on the verge of a repeat performance in an American election with a fanciful conspiracy tale about a Philadelphia mob boss cranking out thousands of ballots for Biden.
Ricchiazzi’s story is as full of complexity as it is empty of any shred of evidence. It spins a convoluted tale of alleged former Philly mob boss “Skinny” Joey Merlino through generous use of the passive voice and generic anonymous sources whose proximity to the supposed conspiracy Ricchiazzi never explains.
Ricchiazzi and his unnamed sources allege that Merlino, a former boss of the Philadelphia mafia, conspired with pro-Biden Philadelphia election officials who provided him with “crates of raw ballots just hours before polls closed on election night” which he and unnamed associates supposedly filled out for Biden at a rate of up to 6,000 per hour.
Merlino, Ricchiazzi’s unnamed sources claimed, would be willing to “flip” on Biden in exchange for an expungement of his criminal record from Trump and, for some reason, a job at the National Parks Service.
Left unexplained is why Merlino, who now lives in Florida on supervised release from federal racketeering charges, would be in Philadelphia and inclined towards or able to conspire with the local election officials and the Biden campaign for election fraud. Nor does Ricchiazzi explain why supposedly crooked city election officials in possession of thousands of blank ballots would need to outsource filling them out.
“As a historian, yes, anything is possible but the idea that Joey Merlino or any mafia group would get involved in this particular election seems ludicrous on multiple levels,” Christian Cipollini, an organized crime historian and author at Gangland Legends, told The Daily Beast.
Merlino, who was released from prison to his home in Florida, remains on supervised release by federal authorities.
The idea that an obscure blog with no record of organized crime reporting could suddenly get in contact with close Merlino associates also seems far-fetched to Cipollini, who’s reported extensively on organized crime for years.
“You can't just call up and say 'hey Frank, tell me what Joey's up to,’” he told The Daily Beast. “It's highly unlikely that a legitimate inside person close to Joey Merlino or the Philly mob is going to leak that kind of major information, even on the off chance it was remotely accurate.”
Merlino’s attorney has also denied the allegations in Ricchiazzi’s blog post. In a statement to the New York Daily News, attorney John Meringolo said his client “categorically denies all the allegations and Joey would rather die than ever be a snitch.”
There are plenty of reasons to doubt the story, besides its shaky, paper-thin sourcing.
The Buffalo Chronicle is notorious for peddling fake news about elections in Canada. In 2019, Buzzfeed and the Toronto Star partnered on an investigation that found Ricchiazzi had offered his website out as a public relations mercenary willing to hype politicians or smear their opponents in exchange for a fee.
As Buzzfeed and the Toronto Star noted, the site garnered a larger audience with a stream of similarly fantastical (and un-bylined) tales about Canadian politics, including a fake story about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trying to suppress a story about a fictitious affair with a former student of his, which went viral shortly before Canada’s 2019 federal election.
Ricchiazzi did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
Despite the mobsters-for-Biden story’s dubious pedigree and unfounded claims, the tale is getting some traction in the outer orbits of Trumpworld.
Jordan Sekulow, the son of President Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow and executive director of his father’s American Center for Law and Justice, tweeted the story approvingly with the admonition "Follow all leads."
Sekulow’s amplification of the story landed the story on The Gateway Pundit, the frequently wrong and often-sued journal of record for the far right MAGA fever swamp. From The Gateway Pundit and with help from organic pickup, the story has spread to Facebook where local Republican party pages, pro-Trump groups, and conspiracy theorists like former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney have all shared the story approvingly.
During an appearance on Fox Business, Rudy Giuliani alluded to the Merlino conspiracy theory but seemed more skeptical of it than not. While referring to the possibility of Democratic cities buying thousands of ballots from the mob, the former New York City mayor told Maria Bartoromo he was only kidding “although, there is an allegation of a mobster involved but I think it's a far-fetched one.”
Giuliani’s halfhearted broach of the story represents the divide between the amateur MAGA faithful and the prWhatever success Ricchiazzi’s Philly mobster story is bringing him, it doesn’t appear to be helping the Trump campaign. Though Trump supporters have embraced the mobster conspiracy, it’s nowhere to be found in the dockets where Trump campaign attorneys are trying to block the certification of Pennysvania’s election results.