Five Linked To New Jersey Genovese Crew Take Guilty Pleas

EXPANDED to include details of what was, as recently as 2014, a vast, sprawling criminal empire operated under the auspices of the Genovese crime family, the Ivy League of the American Mafia....

Yesterday, before Superior Court Judge Donald G. Collester Jr. in Morris County, four Genovese associates and a soldier who operated in New Jersey — and were nabbed with six others in 2014—pleaded guilty to loansharking, unlicensed check cashing, gambling, and money laundering.

Charles Tuzzo
Chuck Tuzzo 


Reputed soldier Vito Alberti and capo Charles (Chuckie) Tuzzo — who reported to the Genovese hierarchy in New York — oversaw and controlled the crew. Charges against Tuzzo -- a well-established ranking member of the Genovese crime family -- are pending. Tuzzo was promoted when Vincent (Chin) Gigante assumed power in the 1980s after the  retirement of Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo.

The indictment originally alleged that the crew made around $10 million in a four-year period via the Newark-based check cashing stores run by alleged Genovese associate Domenick Pucillo, who faces a 10-year prison sentence, the longest of all the defendants sentenced yesterday.

The five were indicted in Operation Fistful, a joint investigation conducted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor -- as well as the New York and Queens County District Attorneys’ Offices and other law enforcement agencies.





 The check cashing operation included the PortuCale Restaurant & Bar in Newark’s Ironbound section, which allegedly allowed customers to cash hefty checks without requiring identification or filing federally mandated currency transaction reports, which meant the customers could hide the money.

PortuCale Restaurant & Bar
PortuCale Restaurant & Bar

Owner Abel Rodriguez charged fees of up to 3 percent for the illegal service, which generated more than $9 million in profits over four years, according to acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.

Rodriguez kept 1 percent and turned the rest over to Pucillo, who in turn handed over one-quarter of his profits to Manuel Rodriguez, who passed a portion up to Alberti and Tuzzo.

Those who copped yesterday:

Domenick Pucillo, 61, of Florham Park, N.J., pleaded guilty to first-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering. The state will recommend a sentence of 10 years in prison.

Robert Spagnola, 71, of Morganville, N.J., pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury. The state will recommend a sentence of five years in prison.

Vito Alberti, 60, of Morristown, N.J., pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury. The state will recommend a sentence of five years in prison.

Manuel Rodriguez, 53, of Chatham, N.J., pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering. The state will recommend a sentence of four years in prison.

Vincent Coppola, 42, of Union City, N.J., pleaded guilty to third-degree promoting gambling. The state will recommend a sentence of 180 days in jail and a term of probation.

The defendants were initially accused of running a multi-million-dollar “smorgasbord of mob schemes” that allegedly reached back to October 2007, according to the acting state Attorney General.

In 2016, the indictment was updated to include more defendants, bringing the then total to 14 from 11. (Added were the wives of three of the defendants, who had been charged with tax fraud.)

Assistant Attorney General Annmarie Taggart and Deputy Attorney General Mohammad Mahmood took the guilty pleas for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.

“When those involved in traditional organized crime engage in schemes such as loansharking and illegal gambling, they profit at the expense of victims who are struggling with debt, gambling problems, and other issues,” said Attorney General Grewal.

New Jersey Commissioner Michael Murphy of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor said: “The Genovese Crime Family has historically exerted its influence on the Port of New Jersey. Disruption of its profits from gambling, loansharking and money laundering weaken that family’s grip.”

The defendants were charged, in varying combinations, with running the following criminal schemes, which allegedly generated “tribute” payments up the Genovese chain of command:

— A massive loansharking operation that yielded about $4.7 million in illegal interest (Pucillo, Spagnola, Alberti, Tuzzo [charges pending against Tuzzo]);

— An illicit multi-million dollar offshore sports gambling enterprise (Coppola, Jerry Albanese [charges pending against Albanese]);

— An unlicensed check-cashing business that made $9 million in fees in four years, while enabling customers to launder funds and evade taxes by skirting federal reporting requirements (Pucillo, Abel J. Rodrigues [charges pending against Rodrigues], Rodriguez); and

— Tax fraud and evasion (Alberti, Spagnola, Coppola, Rodrigues and Rodriguez).

This was initially a much larger case. The details as originally set forth in the indictment portray a vast, sprawling criminal empire that was only one set of rackets linked to one capo who hung his hat in Bayside, Queens.



Longtime family associate Domenick Pucillo, ran Tuzzo's loansharking and money laundering schemes out of two Newark businesses, according to Waterfront Commissioner Murphy and New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.

Pucillo's licensed Tri-State Check Cashing was one of the business; the other was the Portucale Restaurant & Bar, owned by Abel Rodrigues, 52, of Bridgewater. Rodrigues and his partner, Manuel (Manny) Rodriguez, another longtime mob associate, ran an unlicensed check cashing service at the restaurant.

The check cashing fees were higher than standard legal fees, but enabled the crime family to launder millions of dollars in illegal profits as well as $666,000 in drug money.

Full details of all the schemes as outline in the indictment:

LOANSHARKING

Pucillo allegedly used his check-cashing businesses for a massive loansharking operation. He runs several businesses, but the main one is Tri-State Check Cashing, Inc., with headquarters at 17 Avenue A in Newark. He allegedly used cash and credit lines extended to his business to loan money “on the street” at usurious rates. He made loans at one to three “points.” A point equals 1% interest, due weekly, so one point equates to 52% annual interest, two points to 104% annual interest, and three points to 156% annual interest. New Jersey law defines criminal usury as loaning money to an individual at an annual interest rate exceeding 30%, and makes it a second-degree crime if the rate exceeds 50% per year.

Over a two-year period, Pucillo had approximately $3 million in usurious loans on the street and collected approximately $1.3 million in interest per year. It is alleged that Genovese associate Robert “Bobby Spags” Spagnola, 67, of Morganville, N.J., partnered with Pucillo in the loansharking business and received a commission of one point on each loan he secured for Pucillo. In addition, Pucillo allegedly shared the loansharking proceeds up the Genovese chain of command to Alberti and Tuzzo.

Victims were required to pay interest on a weekly basis. The scheme was designed so that, when the victims made loan payments by check, it appeared that they were cashing checks in the ordinary course of Pucillo’s check-cashing business. When they took out loans, victims were required to sign partially completed checks, which Pucillo and his co-defendants could complete and cash through the check-cashing business to collect weekly interest or payments of principal. Victims also could pay in cash.

Defendant Flor Miranda, 40, of Newark, worked as office manager for Pucillo’s check-cashing operation. She allegedly collected loansharking payments and helped Pucillo keep extensive records of the loansharking and money laundering operations run out of his check-cashing businesses.

SPORTS GAMBLING

Vincent P. Coppola, 37, of Union, N.J., son of imprisoned Genovese capo Michael Coppola, allegedly was part of a network of Genovese associates who ran a multi-million dollar illegal sports gambling enterprise in New Jersey that utilized an off-shore “wire room” in Costa Rica to process bets. Coppola allegedly was an “agent” who managed sub-agents or package holders, each of whom had a “package” of bettors under him. He allegedly supervised sub-agents John W. Trainor, 42, of Brick, N.J., and Jerry J. Albanese, 47, of Scotch Plains. Agents decide which bettors can open accounts and gamble using the enterprise’s website and toll-free phone number. They also dictate how much a bettor can gamble per game and per week, and monitor the action and balances of the packages they oversee. Eventually, Coppola allegedly gave Trainor and Albanese more complete control of the bettors in their packages. Coppola allegedly had four packages under him, including those of Trainor and Albanese. In a single year, in 2011, Coppola’s packages allegedly handled more than $1.7 million in bets, and Coppola, Trainor, Albanese and the Genovese crime family – through Alberti and Tuzzo – allegedly made more than $400,000 in profits.

UNLICENSED CHECK-CASHING BUSINESS

In addition to Tri-State Check Cashing and his other licensed check-cashing businesses, Pucillo allegedly financed an unlicensed, illegal check-cashing operation with partners and Genovese associates Abel J. Rodrigues, 52, of Bridgewater, N.J., and Manuel Rodriguez, 49, of Chatham, N.J. This scheme operated out of Portucale Restaurant & Bar at 129 Elm Street in Newark, also known as Viriato Corp. – which is owned by Abel Rodrigues – under the guise that Rodrigues was legally allowed to cash checks as Pucillo’s agent. In reality, this arrangement is illegal, and the defendants allegedly used it to enable clients to launder money and evade taxes. It is alleged that over a four-year period they illegally cashed over $400 million in checks through Portucale Restaurant and collected over $9 million in fees.

Many customers cashed checks at Portucale Restaurant to launder money, hide income or obtain cash for “under-the-table” payrolls because Abel Rodrigues allegedly did not ask for any identification and would not file proper “currency transaction reports,” or CTRs, for any check or combination of checks exceeding $10,000, as required by federal law. Tri-State Check Cashing provided the cash disbursed at Portucale Restaurant, but instead of processing and reporting the individual checks that were cashed, Tri-State would receive checks from Viriato Corp. for sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which bundled together the amounts of the checks cashed at Portucale Restaurant. Tri-State would then file CTRs only for the checks from Viriato Corp. Jennifer Mann, 30, of Bayonne, was employed by Pucillo as the compliance officer for Tri-State. At Pucillo’s direction, she allegedly issued hundreds of false CTRs to conceal tax evasion and money laundering at Portucale Restaurant.

In return for cashing checks for over $10,000 without scrutiny, customers paid fees of up to 3% percent per check, which exceeds the limit of 2.21% permitted under New Jersey law. Abel Rodrigues allegedly received 1% on each check, and the remainder went to Pucillo. It is alleged that Pucillo in turn provided one-quarter of his fees to Manuel Rodriguez, who shared a portion of his fees up the chain to Alberti, Tuzzo and the Genovese crime family.

DRUG MONEY

In January 2012, Pucillo acquired a check-cashing business in Hialeah, Florida, called I&T Financial Services. It is alleged that he subsequently entered into an agreement to launder and transfer drug money from New York and New Jersey to Florida. The drug traffickers allegedly would deliver cash to Flor Miranda at Tri-State Check Cashing in Newark. The money then was wired under the fictitious company name “Gold Shiny” to Florida, where it was laundered through I&T Financial’s business accounts and was received by the client, whose identity remained concealed. Pucillo allegedly laundered and transferred $666,000 in this manner, collecting $22,500 in fees on the transactions.

TRUCKING COMPANY

It is alleged that the Genovese crime family, through members and associates including Tuzzo, Alberti, Pucillo and Trainor, illicitly took control of a company called GTS Auto Carriers, siphoned money from it, and used it to commit other crimes including check forgery and tax evasion. Trainor owned and operated GTS, which transports cars from Port Newark to dealerships throughout New Jersey under a lucrative contract with Nissan. After Trainor obtained the contract, Alberti required GTS to lease trucks to transport the cars from Alberti for over $300,000 per year. Alberti created a company called AMJ Transport solely to lease trucks to GTS.

Alberti also allegedly required GTS to carry Coppola and another Genovese crime family associate on the GTS payroll even though neither actually worked for GTS. In addition, Trainor allegedly had checks issued from a GTS business account to fictitious persons to conceal the fact that he was siphoning money from GTS for his personal use and to pay Alberti and other Genovese crime family members and associates. In five months, Trainor allegedly cashed GTS checks totaling over $100,000 at Pucillo’s check-cashing business, including several on which Trainor forged the signature of the person authorized to sign checks for the GTS account.

TAX FRAUD AND EVASION

It is alleged that, in conducting their criminal schemes, Alberti, Trainor, Rodriguez and Rodrigues – through Pucillo’s check-cashing businesses and other means – concealed their income and either failed to file tax returns or filed fraudulent tax returns which did not account for their criminal earnings.
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