Indicted in “Operation Fistful” by Division of Criminal Justice & Waterfront Commission
TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that six defendants were sentenced friday for their roles in criminal schemes that generated millions of dollars through illegal loansharking, unlicensed check cashing, gambling, and money laundering. The schemes were linked to the New York-based Genovese organized crime family.
The defendants were indicted in “Operation Fistful,” a joint investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, conducted with assistance from the New York and Queens County District Attorneys’ Offices and other law enforcement agencies.
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 and the other associates who were indicted allegedly are part of a New Jersey crew that was operating under the supervision and control of two alleged “made” members of the Genovese crime family –Vito Alberti, a Genovese “soldier” and Charles “Chuckie” Tuzzo, a Genovese “capo” – who answer to the Genovese hierarchy in New York.
The following six defendants were sentenced friday by Superior Court Judge Donald G. Collester Jr. in Morris County:
- Domenick Pucillo, 61, of Florham Park, N.J., was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to first-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.
- Robert Spagnola, 72, of Morganville, N.J., was sentenced to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury.
- Vito Alberti, 60, of Morristown, N.J., was sentenced to five years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal usury.
- Manuel Rodriguez, 54, of Chatham, N.J., was sentenced to four years in prison. He pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit money laundering.
- Vincent Coppola, 42, of Union City, N.J., 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.
- Jerry Albanese, 52, of Scotch Plains, N.J., was sentenced to two years of probation. He pleaded guilty to third-degree promoting gambling.
- An additional defendant, Abel J. Rodrigues, 57, of Bridgewater, N.J., pleaded guilty to third-degree unlicensed check cashing and is awaiting sentencing. The state will recommend that he be sentenced to 364 days in the county jail and a term of probation. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7.
Assistant Attorney General Annmarie Taggart and Deputy Attorney General Mohammad Mahmood took the guilty pleas and handled the sentencing hearings 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. “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.”
“I commend all of the attorneys, detectives and investigators who handled this complex financial investigation and secured these convictions,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “These defendants employed elaborate strategies to hide their profits and crimes, but we exposed their schemes through our investigation, in partnership with the Waterfront Commission.”
“This case presents yet another instance of the Waterfront Commission’s concerted efforts with its law enforcement partners to disrupt the influence of organized crime in the metropolitan area,” said New Jersey Commissioner Michael Murphy of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. “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, 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, Rodriguez, Rodrigues); tax fraud and evasion (Alberti, Spagnola, Coppola, Rodriguez and Rodrigues).
Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, Assistant Attorney General Annmarie Taggart, former Deputy Attorney General Vincent Militello and Deputy Attorney General Jamie Picard presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau. The detectives who conducted Operation Fistful for the Division of Criminal Justice are Lt. Brian Bruton, Sgt. Mario Estrada, Sgt. Patrick Sole and former Detective Matthew Tully, under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Christopher Donohue and Chief of Detectives Paul Morris.
Attorney General Grewal thanked the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor for partnering with the Attorney General’s Office in the investigation. The following individuals conducted the investigation for the Waterfront Commission: Capt. Margaret Baldinger, Sgt. George Falvo, Sgt. Kristen Brylinski, Sgt. Michelle Turner, Detective Joseph Longo, Detective Salvatore Arrigo, Detective Andrew Varga, Detective Matthew Moroney, Detective Frank Albanese, Detective Vincent King, and Detective Fauna Mitchell-Foster.
Attorney General Grewal recognized the New York County District Attorney’s Office, in particular Assistant District Attorney Brian Foley, and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, in particular Executive Assistant District Attorney Peter Crusco, for their work on the investigation. He also recognized Nicole M. Hines, Auditor, and Debra Lewaine, former Supervising Auditor, of the New Jersey Division of Taxation, Office of Criminal Investigation.
The following agencies also provided valuable assistance:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Florida Department of Financial Services
New York City Police Department
United States Internal Revenue Service
New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance
New Jersey State Police
El Dorado Task Force.