Former President Donald Trump was photographed posing alongside convicted ex-Philadelphia mob boss Joey Merlino at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach earlier this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported–but his presidential campaign brushed off the photo-op, despite reportedly installing new vetting protocols after Trump’s meeting with white supremacist Nick Fuentes drew widespread criticism.
Trump, Merlino and a third, unidentified man are pictured wearing golf clothes and flashing thumbs-up signs inside Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach earlier this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The Trump campaign downplayed the photo-op in a statement, telling the Inquirer, “President Trump takes countless photos with people. That does not mean he knows every single person he comes in contact with.”
The statement echoes the campaign’s claim in November that Trump did not know white supremacist Nick Fuentes when he hosted him and rapper Kanye West at Mar-A-Lago in November, a meeting that drew outrage on both sides of the aisle.
The Merlino photo op seems to contradict new protocols Trump’s campaign reportedly installed following the Fuentes meeting, including vetting anyone who comes into contact with Trump and having a senior campaign official with him at all times, a process the Associated Press reported in November.
Merlino served 10 years in prison starting in 2001 following a conviction on federal racketeering charges.
After moving to Boca Raton, Florida, Merlino served a four-month prison sentence in 2014 when he was caught violating his parole by hanging out with a former mob associate, and was sentenced to two years in federal prison in 2018 on a gambling-related charge.
Forbes has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment.
Weeks after announcing his third run for the presidency, Trump was widely criticized by prominent GOP members for hosting Fuentes and West, who has made a series of antisemitic comments, for a dinner at Mar-A-Lago. Former Vice President Mike Pence called on Trump to apologize for the meeting, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also publicly denounced the sit-down. Trump, meanwhile, insisted he knew “nothing about” Fuentes when West brought him along.
While it’s unclear if Trump knows Merlino outside of the encounter at Trump International, Merlino is an outspoken Trump supporter. After several mob associates testified against him in his 2018 trial, Merlino told reporters “President Trump is right. They’ve got to outlaw the flippers.” The statement echoes remarks Trump made about his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen in 2018, after Cohen admitted to making hush-money payments to women Trump allegedly had affairs with in a plea deal. “For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. . . it almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair,” Trump said Fox & Friends.
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