Reputed mobster nabbed with Lyndhurst men followed in infamous father’s footsteps, authorities say

BEHIND THE STORY: Although his notorious father once remained a fugitive for 11 years, reputed Genovese crime family member Vincent Coppola was on the lam all of one day before New Jersey State Police nabbed him with two brothers from Lyndhurst at a Garden State Parkway rest stop this week.
Whether the bust was pure coincidence or something more remains an open question.
Coppola’s father, Genovese capo Michael “Mikey Cigars” Coppola (above, left), spent more than a decade on the run before the FBI captured him in Manhattan in 2007.
Although he beat a rap for allegedly shooting another mobster in a motel parking lot in 1977, the elder Coppola was convicted of other mob-related activities and is serving a 16-year federal prison sentence in Atlanta.
The warrant for his son’s arrest was barely 24 hours old when he was captured.
According to state authorities, troopers conducting a quality-of-life detail spotted Vincent Coppola  (above, right) and the Pio brothers — Ralph, 46, and 40-year-old Joseph — snorting heroin Wednesday in a parked Cadillac DTS at the Colonia South Service Area in Woodbridge.
The troopers seized 27 wax folds of heroin and drug paraphernalia, they said.
They then turned Coppola over to the state Division of Criminal Justice, gave Joseph Pio to Bloomfield police (for an active warrant) and released Ralph Pio on a summons.
Just a day earlier, state authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Coppola, of Union, as part of a roundup of members and associates of the legendary Genovese family on charges of running a racketeering enterprise.
The network was based in the family’s longtime stomping grounds, the Down Neck/Ironbound section of Newark and the nearby port of Newark, but extended to Ocean County, as well, authorities said.
Heading the operation, acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said, was 80-year-old Genovese family capo Charles Tuzzo of Bayside, Queens, and reputed family soldier Vito Alberti, 55, of New Providence.
Loansharking alone brought the group $1.3 million in interest, Hoffman said.
The crew also operated a multi-million dollar offshore sports gambling operation, controlled a trucking firm that shipped new cars from Port Newark and used an unlicensed check-cashing business to rake in more than $9 million in fees while enabling customers to launder money and duck taxes, he said.
Coppola ran the sports betting arm of the network using an offshore wire room in Costa Rica to process more than $1.7 million in bets in a single year through a website and toll-free phone number, authorities said.
He essentially followed in footsteps of his father, they said, who with others controlled waterfront rackets and family operations in Newark, where the elder Coppola was born.
Michael Coppola was the prime suspect in the April 1977 murder of John (Johnny Coca Cola) Lardiere, who’d been released from prison for a day to spend Easter with his family.
After his killer’s .22-caliber gun jammed, Lardiere reportedly asked: “What’re you gonna do now, tough guy?”
Authorities said Coppola then drew a .38 from under his pant leg and killed him in the Bridgewater motel parking lot.
The killing remained unsolved until 1996, when a mobster arrested on murder and extortion charges fingered Coppola — who federal agents said was part of a notorious Genovese hit team known as “The Fist” and for a time was acting caporegime while Tino Fiumara was imprisoned in the 1980s and 90s.
After being served with a summons to provide a DNA sample, Coppola fled his Spring Lake home. He used various assumed names while traveling between residences in New York and San Francisco before a team of FBI agents grabbed him walking on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he was living with his wife, in March 2007.
Coppola was eventually cleared of the murder charge but was convicted on RICO charges for extortion and other crimes. A federal judge later sentenced him to 16 years. There is no parole in the federal system, which means the elder Coppola wouldn’t see freedom again for at least another decade, when he’s 78.
Attention now shifts to his son and his co-defendants.

“History teaches us that as long as demand exists for illegal loans, illicit gambling, drugs, and other black-market goods and services, organized crime is going to turn a profit by preying on society,” Hoffman said. 

Feds urge leniency for turncoat hitman Joseph ‘Joey Caves’ Competiello

The ex-Colombo hit man came forward to solve the 1997 gangland killing of NYPD cop Ralph Dols.

Sunday, October 26, 2014, 4:00 AM
Federal prosecutors are going to bat for the ex-Colombo hit man who came forward to solve the 1997 gangland rubout of NYPD cop Ralph Dols.
Joseph (Joey Caves) Competiello, a mob soldier who pleaded guilty to five murders as part of his government agreement, is facing life in prison when he is sentenced next month by Judge Brian Cogan.
But the feds are urging leniency for the turncoat who helped break the crime family and bring Dols' killers to justice.
"Competiello's cooperation initiated a chain of events which resulted in the cooperation of other Colombo family members and associates which led to the arrests and ultimately the convictions of nearly every inducted member of the crime family," Assistant Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes stated in court papers.
"Joe's cooperation was the beginning of the end of the Colombo family," another law enforcement source added.
Before Competiello was flipped by FBI special agent John Fallon, the Dols' murder had been exhaustively investigated by the NYPD and the feds, but was a cold case
Then Competiello revealed the participants in the killing, including then capos Thomas Gioeli and Dino Calabro - Calabro cooperated soon after and implicated former acting boss Joel Cacace who wanted the cop whacked because he had married Cacace's ex-wife.
"Prior to Competiello's cooperation not a single lead implicated Competiello or the Gioeli crew in the murder," Geddes noted.
In a sad footnote to the case, Cacace, Gioeli and accused shooter Dino Saracino were acquitted of the young cop's slaying. Competiello and Calabro testified that they did not know Dols was a cop when they were tasked with gunning him down outside his Brooklyn apartment building.
Sources said Dols' family understood that it was necessary for the feds to make deals with the mob rats who participated in the murder in order to bring their accomplices to justice.
Competiello has served more than six years in prison since he was arrested and it is doubtful that the judge will give him time served, sources said.

New Jersey Mafia Bust Proof that Sports Betting Needs Oversight, Says State AG


A New Jersey Mafia bust supports the idea that sports betting in the Garden State needs to be legalized in order to keep criminal elements out, according to the state’s Acting Attorney General, John J. Hoffman.
Speaking at a press conference in Newark this week, Hoffman said that the recent break up of a sports betting and loan-sharking operation run by the notorious Genovese crime family highlights the need for sports betting to be dragged “out of the shadows.”
“We have talked before at length about one of the primary efforts in our sports betting journey that we have been on is to try to bring it out of the black market shadows,” said Hoffman. “The Mafia, the organized crime, controlled shadows. And this is exactly where it’s happening.”
His words echo those of former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, the man who signed casino gambling into law in the state, who saw the implementation of rigorous gambling regulation as part of the fight against the New Jersey Mob, famously warning the Mafia to keep its “filthy hands off Atlantic City.”
Multimillion Dollar Mafia Operation
Incumbent Governor Chris Christie last week approved a law that will permit sports betting in New Jersey at casinos and racetracks. Currently only four US states, Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon, are able to offer sports betting legally under federal law. The Protection and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) makes it a criminal offense elsewhere in the US; however, Christie’s law seeks to repeal the prohibition, effectively decriminalizing sports betting within the state, which lawmakers see as a way a of revitalizing New Jersey’s lagging economy.
New York Harbor Waterfront Commissioner Michael Murphy told the assembled press that the Mafia operation had been bringing in as much as $1.7 million a year from sports betting alone. The ring, it is believed, had been orchestrated by Vincent Coppola, the 37-year-old son of jailed Genovese capo Michael “Mikey Cigars” Coppola. Murphy said that Coppola used a wire room in Costa Rica to process gambling transactions, while his henchmen in New Jersey vetted new clients and enforced collections of gambling debts. While 11 people were arrested for involvement in the ring, Coppola remains at large.
Prohibition Not Working
“When the mafia, when organized crime, takes over and makes money on illegal gambling, where does it go?” asked Murphy. “It doesn’t go to property tax relief, it doesn’t go to senior citizens, and Medicare or prescription programs. It goes to money laundering, it goes to the importation of heroin, and there are kids dying today in New Jersey as a result,” Murphy said.
Murphy also drew a parallel between the outlawing of sports betting and that of alcohol during the Prohibition era, which inadvertently allowed the Mafia to thrive through bootlegging operations. “People drink and people gamble,” he said. “Some of the families that are still engaged in organized crime today, several generations ago enjoyed enormous profits during a time when drinking was illegal.”
However, it seems that not everyone in New Jersey is persuaded by the arguments against the prohibition of sports betting. A poll this week conducted by Rutgers-Eagleton showed that while legalization is broadly supported by some 44 percent of New Jerseyans, another 31 percent said they thought it would make no difference, while 17 percent were staunchly against it.

John Gotti brought spotlight on Mafia to Queens

John Joseph Gotti Jr. was an Italian-American organized crime figure best known in the 1980s as the powerful, media-courting boss of the Gambino Mafia family. He was the fifth of 13 children born on Oct. 27, 1940 to John Sr. and Philomena.
Five of the Gotti brothers, including John, Jr., eventually became “made” members of the Gambino crime syndicate. The Gottis grew up in poverty, with a father unable to find steady work and prone to gamble away whatever he was able to earn. The future “Teflon Don’s” life of trouble and mayhem began early, as he developed a childhood reputation as a bully, truant and petty criminal. After marrying in 1958 and starting a family, he briefly tried his hand at a series of low-paying legitimate jobs before stints in jail spurred him on to a life of crime.
In the 1960s and 1970s he steadily rose through the ranks of the Italian Mafia while living and operating in Queens. He became boss of the Gambino family after orchestrating the notorious hit on boss Paul Castellano outside of Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan in 1985 and was known throughout the 1980s for his flamboyant public persona and invincibility before the law. He was arrested on numerous criminal charges in 1990 and sentenced to life in prison. He died of cancer in 2002. He is buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens. Of his five children, John Angelo Gotti is perhaps best known for following his father’s footsteps into the mob life.
The future “Dapper Don” began his life of crime in the street gangs of New York around the age of 12. He began to establish mob contacts who would mentor and work with him as he embarked on a career on the wrong side of the law. After spending the early 1960s in and out of jail, he hooked up with Gambino capo Carmine Fatico and took to truck hijackings at Idlewild Airport and other places to support his growing family. After returning to jail for his thefts, the rising mob star moved into the Queens neighborhood of Howard Beach and rejoined his old crew working out of the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park.
Gotti “made his bones” in the Mafia for his role in killing a gangster suspected of murdering a nephew of boss Carlo Gambino. Defended by famed attorney Roy Cohn, he was released from prison after serving only two years and soon became a “made” member of the Gambino family. John Gotti quickly earned a street reputation as a powerful enforcer and a good earner, eager to get into rackets such as construction, drug-dealing and stock fraud. However, he soon chafed under the leadership of family boss Paul Castellano, who did not want his crews dealing in narcotics. It was time for the mobster to make a move; “Big Paulie” would never make it to his sitdown at the steakhouse that chilly December evening.
After taking over leadership of the Gambino family, Gotti cultivated a hometown hero reputation in the working class streets of Howard Beach. He was often seen in public in expensive, bespoke suits with an entourage of mob associates. Skillful at corrupting juries, throughout the 1980s criminal charges could not stick to the “Teflon Don” as he expanded the criminal tentacles of the Italian Mafia. The family earned an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars during his reign.
But Gotti’s invincibility could not last forever. In December 1990 he was arrested with underboss Sammy “the Bull” Gravano and others at the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy and was handed a slew of charges, including murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, bribery and tax evasion. With the government able to flip Gravano against his former boss, the Gotti empire soon came crumbing down. In 1992, John Gotti was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to life in prison, where he died 10 years later.
Notable quote: “I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.”
For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at

Portuguese emigrant detained in US, money-laundering for the mafia

A Portuguese man has been detained in the American state of New Jersey on charges of being part of an elaborate money-laundering scheme for the Italian mafia.
 Abel Rodrigues, originally from the Minho region in northern Portugal, has been charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, conspiracy, operating an unlicensed cheque-cashing facility and filing fraudulent tax returns. 
According to the US Attorney General, it is believed 52-year old Rodrigues, using his Portucale restaurant in the Ironbound district as a front, assisted in laundering over 400 million dollars of the mob’s money over the past four years.
Rodrigues’ Brazilian wife Flor Miranda, office manager of the Tri-State Check Cashing Company, was also detained in the operation.
He now faces between 10 and 20 years in jail if found guilty of extortion and money laundering and that sentence could increase if it accumulates with other sentences.
According to the accusation, which was made public on Tuesday afternoon, “Many customers cashed cheques at Portucale Restaurant”, owned by Rodrigues, “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 cheques or combination of cheques exceeding $10,000, as required by federal law.”
Tri-State Check Cashing provided the cash disbursed at Portucale Restaurant.
For his services Rodrigues reportedly charged three percent commission, which over four years generated a profit of nine million dollars, or around seven million euros.
He kept one percent of the commission and gave the rest to Domenick Pucillo, who ran Tri-State Check Cashing.
In total, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced, seven alleged members and associates of the New York-based Genovese organised crime family were arrested on Tuesday as part of ‘Operation Fistful’, and one more is sought on an arrest warrant on first-degree racketeering charges for allegedly reaping millions of dollars in criminal profits in New Jersey through loan-sharking, unlicensed cheque cashing, gambling and money laundering, including laundering of proceeds from narcotics trafficking.
Three other alleged associates were charged by summons, bringing the total number charged to 11.
Pucillo and the other associates charged, including Rodrigues, are believed to be part of a New Jersey crew operating under the supervision and control of two alleged ‘made’ members of the Genovese crime family; Charles ‘Chuckie’ Tuzzo, 80, of Bayside, New York, a Genovese ‘Capo’, and Vito Alberti, 55, of New Providence, New Jersey, a Genovese ‘soldier’ – who answer to the Genovese hierarchy in New York.
Tuzzo, Alberti and Pucillo were among the seven men who were arrested on Tuesday morning.
“We charge that this crew of the Genovese crime family was up to many of the Mafia’s old tricks in New Jersey, including loan-sharking and illegal gambling, to the tune of millions of dollars,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman.
“History teaches us that as long as demand exists for illegal loans, illicit gambling, drugs, and other black-market goods and services, organised crime is going to turn a profit by preying on society. Our message to the Mafia is that as long as they do, we’re going to be here to send them to prison”, he said.
Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice said: “This case illustrates that the Mafia has evolved and learned to exploit sophisticated financial systems to hide and launder the proceeds of traditional street crimes such as loan-sharking and illegal gambling.
“Through it all, as always, the Mafia makes its money largely through the ever-present threat of violence. This case demonstrates that, as much as the Mafia may change its criminal tactics, we will work tirelessly to remain one step ahead and root out their corrosive influence”, she added.
New Jersey Commissioner Michael Murphy, of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, reflected: “This case presents yet another instance of the Waterfront Commission’s concerted efforts with its law enforcement partners to disrupt the influence of organised crime in the metropolitan area.
“The Genovese Crime Family has historically exerted its influence on the Port of New Jersey. Disruption of its profits from gambling, loan-sharking and money laundering weaken that family’s grip.”

On its website, the Portucale is described as “a family-owned and run restaurant serving authentic regional Portuguese food” and says: “We hope that you will have an incredible dining experience. Come join our family for dinner!”

Bail reduced for some alleged Genovese crime family associates

By Justin Zaremba | NJ Advance Media for

MORRISTOWN — Bail was reduced for several of the alleged Genovese crime family associates accused of running illegal financial schemes and sports gambling operations, but a Superior Court judge maintained $400,000 bail for alleged "capo" Charles "Chuckie" Tuzzo Thursday.
The 80-year-old Tuzzo, however, posted $40,000 with a bail bondsman and was expected to be released later in the evening.
Tuesday, acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced the arrest of 11 alleged Genovese crime family members and associates, saying their schemes were evidence the Mafia had "evolved and learned to exploit sophisticated financial systems to hide and launder the proceeds of traditional street crimes.”
Tuzzo, of Bayside, N.Y. — a Genovese "capo" — and Vito Alberti, 55, of New Providence — a "made" soldier — allegedly report directly to the crime family's hierarchy in New York, Hoffman said.
Tuzzo and Alberti allegedly received tribute from Genovese family members and associates for illegal financial operations in New Jersey such as check-cashing operations and multimillion-dollar sports gambling operation.
According to Hoffman, Domenick Puccillo, 56, of Florham Park oversaw the operations of Tri-State Check Cashing Inc., located on Avenue A in Newark’s Ironbound District, and other licensed check cashing locations. Puccillo is charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, conspiracy, criminal usury, possession of usurious loan records and operating an unlicensed check-cashing facility.
Puccillo allegedly extended lines of both cash and credit to customers, and charged annual interest rates ranging between one to three “points”, or between 52 and 156 percent. Individuals who used the business were typically indigent with poor credit, and were required to pay interest weekly, or face threats of violence from Puccillo and an associate, Robert "Bobby Spags" Spagnola, Hoffman said.
Spagnola, 67, of Morganville is charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, conspiracy, criminal usury and possession of usurious loan records.
Meanwhile, Vincent P. Coppola, 37, of Union allegedly headed a multi-million dollar illegal sports gambling business. Coppola, who is charged with first-degree racketeering, first-degree money laundering, conspiracy and promoting gambling, is the son of jailed Genovese capo Michael Coppola.
Bail was set at $400,000 with no 10-percent option for each of the individuals arrested earlier this week, but Judge James DeMarzo in Morristown reduced bail to $300,000 Thursday for following: Spagnola; Abel J. Rodrigues, 52, Bridgewater; Manuel Rodriguez, 49, Chatham; and John W. Trainor, 42, Brick.
Alberti's bail was held at $400,000.
"It could have been higher," the judge told the court. "It could have been much higher. Multiples of what it was set at."
But, DeMarzo later said, it was his inclination to reduce it.
"Bail is not there to punish," he said. "It's there to make sure someone shows up at court."
Rodrigues, the owner of Portucale Restaurant & Bar, allegedly participated in the check-cashing operation by using his business to launder money and evade taxes. He and his associate, Rodriguez, are accused of cashing more than $400 million in checks and collecting over $9 million in fees over a four-year period during the course of the scheme.
Trainor and Jerry Albanese, 47, of Scotch Plains served under Vincent Coppola as part the illegal gambling operations, Hoffman said.
Trainor allegedly became tied up with the ring after becoming indebted to the crime family — which later took over his car business, GTS Auto Carriers, and siphoned money from it.
Trainor, who wasn't represented by counsel but had an application for a public defender, told the court he was "completely broke" and likely couldn't pay bail even if it was reduced significantly.
"I went bankrupt," he said. "I'm completely broke. I have five small kids at home."
Trainor said his wife's a registered nurse and works full time, so he stays home with the children. His 17-year-old daughter, Trainor said, was still recovering from a liver transplant she received in April.
Tuzzo, Alberti, Spagnola, Rodriguez and Trainor each made appearances in court via a closed circuit feed from Morris County Correctional Facility. Rodrigues and Pucillo posted bail earlier in the week.
Coppola, who wasn’t arrested on Tuesday, was picked up by police Wednesday, according to the Attorney General’s Office. His bail wasn't reviewed Thursday.
Despite several successful bail reductions by other alleged associates, Tuzzo's attorney, Gerald McMahon, didn't seek bail modification.
McMahon said it was because the terms had already been set with the Attorney General's Office and "having my guy and his picture at the top of (the AG's) chart is not conducive to getting bail reduction." But, he said, he may later seek modification and recoupment of the bail paid in excess.
"I look forward to trashing this case when we get to court," McMahon told NJ Advance outside of DeMarzo's courtroom.
McMahon, who is licensed to practice law in New York — where Tuzzo lives — but not New Jersey, was vouched for by his son, a licensed New Jersey attorney, in the court proceedings Thursday.
Regarding the case, he said, "Don't you get immunity after 80 for a glorified gambling arrest?"
Tuzzo, Alberti, Pucillo, Spagnola, Rodriguez, Coppola, Rodrigues and Trainor are all facing charges including first-degree racketeering and money laundering, each of which could land them in jail for up to 20 years.
Alberti, Trainor, Rodrigues and Rodriguez are also facing tax-related charges for their illegal activity related to the check-cashing businesses and other endeavors.
Flor Miranda of Newark and Jennifer Mann of Bayonne who were charged in connection with the alleged illegal financial operations didn't have their bail reviewed Thursday. Albanese's bail also wasn't reviewed Thursday.
Miranda and Mann are each accused of helping to keep records and file false reports related to the schemes.
The Attorney General's Office was represented by Deputy Attorney Generals Jacqueline Weyand and Ray Mateo.
The matter is next scheduled to go before Superior Court Judge Robert Gilson on Nov. 19.

Arson-related conviction overturned for mob informant

By Frank Donnelly |

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A longtime mob informant, found guilty for his role in an arson on Staten Island committed by gangsters he informed on, has had his conviction vacated, according to a published report.
A federal appeals court ruled the trial judge should have allowed into evidence a secret tape recording in which his FBI handler said Volkan (The Turk) Mergen had done nothing wrong with regard to the January 27, 2006 fire, said a report in the New York Post.
Mergen told the agent he had participated in the arson, against the FBI's instructions, because he feared for his life if he backed out, according to the report and the decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Mergen, a former Gambino crime family associate, had been serving 12 years in a federal prison.
Prosecutors had praised Mergen for helping take down numerous Gambino and Bonanno crime family members. Between 2001 and 2006, he made more than 275 secret recordings, court documents say.
"Mergen's service was fruitful: He sometimes submitted so many recordings to the FBI that the agency could not keep pace," said court papers.
However, the FBI broke ties with Mergen after the arson.
Mergen had told FBI agents about the plan in advance and was instructed not to involve himself, said prosecutors.
But he contended he couldn't back out without exposing himself as a snitch, said court papers.
The Fire Department extinguished the blaze and the home owner suffered a heart attack, court documents state. Those papers don't specify where on Staten Island the fire occurred.
The trial judge dismissed as hearsay a tape recording in which an FBI agent said he didn't believe Mergen had done anything wrong on the night of the arson, said the report.
The judge had erred in refusing to allow the tape into evidence, the appeals court determined.
"Prior inconsistent statements offered for impeachment, are, by definition, not hearsay," the appeals court said.
In a 2010 trial, Mergen was convicted of driving to New Jersey to get the gasoline used in the arson and was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2012 on that charge and several other convictions.
The appeals court ordered that Mergen be retried on the arson-related conviction.
However, the panel dismissed other convictions for drug distribution, attempted robbery and firearm possession, offenses which had occurred years before the arson, because the statute of limitations had expired.
Before his arrest, Mergen was credited with helping to crack the 2005 murder of Bonanno associate Robert McKelvey at the old Kreischer Mansion in Charleston, said the report.
McKelvey was stabbed and drowned in a pond on the grounds before his body was chopped into pieces and discarded. Joseph Young, 29, was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life on 24 racketeering counts, including the murder.