Latest Sentencing In Operation Fistful Probe Of New Jersey-Based Genovese Crew

The latest from Operation Fistful, a probe into New Jersey-based wiseguys and associates who were accused of running a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise that was "a smorgasbord of mob schemes" allegedly in operation from October 2007 through to April 2016.

Reputed Genovese family associate Abel Rodrigues was sentenced on Monday to three years of probation for his role in an illegal multimillion-dollar check-cashing operation.

Rodrigues pleaded guilty to third-degree unlicensed check cashing, part of the schemes federal prosecutors have linked to Operation Fistful, the name of a probe into criminal schemes that generated millions of dollars through illegal loansharking, unlicensed check cashing, gambling, and money laundering, as outlined by Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

The Attorney General’s Office recommended Rodrigues get probation and 364 days in county jail. In lieu of jail time, Superior Court Judge Donald Collester imposed 200 hours of community service and a $15,000 criminal fine.

In September, some defendants were given various sentences, ranging from probation to 10 years in prison for participating in criminal schemes linked to Operation Fistful.

Jerry Albanese, 52, of Scotch Plains, was sentenced to two years of probation. He pleaded guilty to third-degree promoting gambling.

Domenick Pucillo, 61, of Florham Park, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to first-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Robert Spagnola, 72, of Morganville, was sentenced to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury.

Vito Alberti, 60, of Morristown, was sentenced to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury.

Manuel Rodriguez, 54, of Chatham, was sentenced to four years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Vincent Coppola, 42, of Union City, who previously served 103 days in jail, was sentenced to time served and two years of probation. He pleaded guilty to third-degree promoting gambling.

Much of the illicit revenue was collected and laundered through licensed and unlicensed check-cashing businesses in Newark run by alleged Genovese associate Domenick Pucillo. Pucillo was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Pucillo and the other men indicted were allegedly part of a New Jersey-based Genovese crew operating under reputed soldier Vito Alberti and capo Charles Tuzzo. Both Alberti and Tuzzo were said to directly answer to the Genovese family’s hierarchy in New York. Alberti was sentenced to five years, and charges against Tuzzo are still pending.

Tuzzo certainly looks like a battle-hardened veteran Mafioso...

Pucillo allegedly financed the 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.

The scheme operated out of the Portucale Restaurant & Bar at 129 Elm Street in Newark, also known as Viriato Corp. – which Abel Rodrigues owned.

The scheme was set up so that Rodrigues was supposedly legally allowed to cash checks as Pucillo’s agent. The arrangement was bogus, and the defendants allegedly used it to enable clients to launder money and evade taxes. Over a four-year period, they illegally cashed more than $400 million in checks through the Portucale, with the men collecting a cool $9 million in fees.

Many customers cashed checks at the Portucale to launder money, hide income, or obtain cash for off-the-book 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.

In return for cashing checks for more than $10,000 without scrutiny, customers paid fees of up to 3% 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.

The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, and the New York and Queens County District Attorneys’ Offices and other law enforcement agencies all participated in the probe and prosecutions.

“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,” Grewal said. “By prosecuting the men who ran these schemes and putting key defendants behind bars, we send a message that we will not tolerate these corrosive criminal activities that harm individuals, families and society as a whole.”