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.