Charges pile up for Rinick

Shortly before Billy Rinick was arrested and charged with the murder of one of his associates in May, he granted an exclusive interview to a local television station.

At the time, Rinick told the reporter that he doesn’t like drugs — and that he doesn’t even take aspirin.

But last Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted Rinick on charges that he was knee-deep in the drug trade in Philadelphia and New Jersey, said Rich Manieri, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The 11-count federal indictment alleges the 30-year-old sold more than 50 kilograms of cocaine out of his home on the 1600 block of South Camac Street and in the vicinity of Camac and Tasker streets, among other locations, said Manieri.

Rinick was charged with federal conspiracy to deliver cocaine, seven counts of drug distribution and two counts of distributing cocaine within 1,000 feet of South Philadelphia High School at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue.

If convicted, South Philly’s highest-profile mobster-wannabe would never see the outside of a prison cell. He also would be fined $16 million.

U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan said Rinick headed a three-man drug organization from June 1998 to January 2002.

"This was a significant drug operation whose leader used fear and intimidation to shield himself from justice," said Meehan.

One of the two other defendants named in the drug indictment is Michael Focoso — the very man who reluctantly agreed earlier this year to testify about the shooting death of 21-year-old Adam Finelli, a.k.a. Adam Silver.

At Rinick’s June 13 preliminary hearing, Focoso testified he was sitting in the passenger seat of Finelli’s white Cadillac SUV when Rinick, who was sitting in the backseat, unloaded "four, five" shots into the back of Finelli’s head.

Focoso, 22, of Woodstock Street near Ritner, is being held in protective custody.

Joseph Viola Jr., 40, of the 2600 block of Dudley Street, is the third defendant named in the drug indictment.

Viola was arrested at his home early last Thursday, and later that day entered a not-guilty plea during a brief hearing, said Manieri. He was released Monday on bail, with his three South Philly properties valued at $200,000 as collateral, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

He is charged with one count of possession with the intent to distribute, while Focoso is charged with one count of distributing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school.

The indictment also alleges that Rinick and Viola taught Focoso about the drug trade, including "a more efficient way to dilute and repackage cocaine." According to the indictment, Rinick "threatened persons with harm, including death, if they provided information to law-enforcement officials concerning his cocaine operation."

Rinick’s drug indictment came on the heels of a yearlong investigation by local, state and federal authorities. The investigation included the now-infamous Dec. 7, 2001 raid on the home of jailed mob boss Joey Merlino. Merlino’s wife, Deborah, greeted federal agents at the door in her bedclothes, while Rinick, wearing underwear and a T-shirt, hid upstairs under a bed.

During the raid, federal agents discovered $4,685 in Rinick’s pants pocket, which the defendant claimed was rent he collected from his tenants. Agents also found a bag containing $86,000 in Deborah Merlino’s bedroom closet. Some of the money was later identified by its serial numbers as money used for undercover drug buys by state investigators, said federal agent Michael McIlmail.

For his part, Rinick has maintained that his extravagant lifestyle, the posh home on Camac Street, expensive cars and motorcycles, and wads of cash were the proceeds of his real-estate investments and rent he collected from his tenants.

He remains in jail without bail.