NEWARK, NJ - According to a release from the State of New Jersey, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced Tuesday that seven alleged members and associates of the New York-based Genovese organized crime family were arrested and one more is being sought on an arrest, while three others were charged by summons today, all concerning charges for allegedly reaping millions of dollars in criminal profits in New Jersey through loansharking, unlicensed check cashing, gambling and money laundering.

One of those is a Bridgewater resident.

Abel J. Rodrigues, 52, of Bridgewater, was charged with first degree racketeering, first degree money laundering, first degree conspiracy, third degree operating an unlicensed check-cashing facility and third degree filing a fraudulent tax return.

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Rodrigues, the release said, is allegedly a Genovese associate working with a Chatham resident and others in an unlicensed, illegal check-cashing operation. The operation, according to the release, operated out of Portucale Restaurant & Bar in Newark, which is owned by Rodrigues and also known as Viriato Corp., and was done under the guise that Rodrigues was legally allowed to cash checks as an agent for Florham Park resident Domenick Pucillo, who was arrested for allegedly running the licensed and unlicensed check-cashing businesses.

According to the release, the defendants allegedly used this legal arrangement to launder money and evade taxes. Allegedly, the release said, over a four-year period they illegally cashed more than $400 million in checks through Portucale Restaurant and collected more than $9 million in fees.

Many customers, the release said, cashed checks at the restaurants to launder money, hide income or obtain cash for "under-the-table payrolls" because Rodrigues allegedly did not ask for identification and didn't file proper currency transaction reports for checks exceeding $10,000, as required by federal law.

Tri-State Check Cashing, Inc., the main one used for a massive loansharking operation the release said, would receive checks from Viriato Corp. for sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which bundled together checks cashed at Portucale Restaurant. Tri-State, the release said, would then file currency transaction reports only for checks from Viriato Corp.

According to the release, a Bayonne resident allegedly issued hundreds of false currency transaction reports to conceal tax evasion and money laundering.

In return for cashing checks for more than $10,000, the release said, customers paid fees of up to 3 percent per check, which exceeds the limit of 2.21 percent allowed by New Jersey law. Rodrigues, the release said, allegedly received 1 percent on each check, and the remainder went to Pucillo.

It is also alleged that Rodrigues was one of several who concealed income and either failed to file tax returns or filed fraudulent tax returns that did not account for their criminal earnings.

The charges for all 11 defendants, the release said, stem from Operation Fistful, an ongoing investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, conducted with the New York and Queens County District Attorneys' Offices and other law enforcement agencies. The eight men targeted for arrest, the release said, face racketeering and money laundering charges that carry consecutive sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison for each charge.

All 11 defendants are charged, in several combinations, with running the following criminal schemes:

  • a massive loansharking operation that yielded about $1.3 million in illegal interest each year
  • an illicit multi-million dollar offshore sports gambling enterprise
  • an unlicensed check-cashing business that made $9 million in fees in four years
  • laundering of $666,000 in drug money via check-cashing businesses
  • illegal control and use of a trucking firm with a contract to transport cars from Port Newark
  • tax fraud and evasion