Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino is done serving his latest federal prison sentence.

The former Philadelphia mob boss' four-month prison sentence was cut short Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The ruling stated that Merlino "shall be released from custody immediately." It came just 10 days before Merlino was to have finished serving his sentence in Florida, and leaves him free to return as maitre d' at a Boca Raton, Fla., restaurant that bears his name.

Merlino, 53, was sentenced last fall to four months in federal prison for violating terms of his supervised release on a 2001 racketeering conviction.

In October, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled that Merlino violated the terms of his release by meeting with John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini, a former captain of the Philadelphia Mafia and a codefendant who was also convicted in the racketeering trial. The men, who were not permitted to contact each other under the terms of their supervised release, met in June at the Havana Nights Cigar Bar & Lounge in Boca Raton. An FBI surveillance team spotted the men in a glass-enclosed VIP section with leather recliners and a wall-size television, according to testimony in the case.

Merlino's attorneys argued that the meeting was a chance encounter and filed an appeal.

Merlino reported to federal prison in Florida in January. He was scheduled for release May 3.

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit heard oral arguments April 14. The panel issued a split decision Thursday.

The court has not yet released its full opinion with explanations of the ruling and the dissent.

Weeks after Surrick ordered him to return to prison, Merlino's Restaurant opened in Boca Raton.

Merlino does not own the restaurant; its major investor is South Philadelphia native and multimillionaire Florida businessman Stanley Stein. Its menu is based on dishes that Merlino's mother cooked when he was growing up in Point Breeze.

In the 2001 racketeering case that sent Merlino to prison, he was also acquitted of several shootings.

After his release in that case, Merlino moved to a gated community in Boca Raton and publicly swore off his involvement in the mob.

lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal