According to a news report from the Independent, “the controversial former mayor officially became a free man last week, and soon a sign emblazoned with his nickname will stand on West Front Street. John Merla is back.”

“Merla, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe and was sentenced to 22 months in prison, is the new manager, head chef and namesake of Johnny Tomatoes, formerly Antonio’s Pizzeria, in Keyport’s downtown.The business, Merla hopes, will serve as a fresh start in his old stomping ground”

“‘It’s a new beginning,’ Merla said. ‘Maybe it’s the final chapter.'”

“If it is the final chapter of John Merla, it’s probably not the one observers would have predicted 24 years ago. In 1985, Merla was elected to the Borough Council at the age of 23. Five years later, the borough’s voters made him the youngest mayor in Keyport history.Those days of politics are behind him, insisted Merla, now 47.”

“‘I ain’t here to run for mayor. I’m not here to impress anybody, except with my cooking. I don’t have a political agenda. I’m done with that. It’s time to move on,’ he said.”

“Merla has been out of prison since February, and his halfway house granted him home confinement privileges in June. Since his exit from federal prison, he and his girlfriend’s family, whom he would not identify, have been planning the restaurant. The new ownership took over Antonio’s Aug. 12, the last day of Merla’s confinement,” the story said. 

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