Authorities say mafia illegally funneled $400M through Newark restaurant

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NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) -- How does the Acting Attorney General for New Jersey John Hoffman characterize the existence of the mob?

His answer only requires five words: "The mafia exists for crime."

That crime, according to Hoffman, was well organized within the latest syndicate that the AG's office along with other agencies busted Tuesday with the arrests of 11. "The mafia used complex financial instruments to commit their crimes and to launder their criminal proceeds."

The highly sophisticated "Operation Fistful" was allegedly headed up by a capo of the Genovese family. "Is it a fatal blow to the Genovese crime family? Probably not, unfortunately. Is it a significant financial hit? Probably," said Hoffman during a morning news conference.

Charles "Chuckie" Tuzzo, a "made" man within the family was the capo identified by law enforcement as the ringleader of a syndicate that stretched from the Ironbound district all the way to Costa Rica. "We allege in this case that the defendants laundered their own proceeds and we further allege that these defendants laundered money from other criminals, including drug traffickers who are dealing narcotics and fueling the epidemic of addiction that is ripping apart out communities in New Jersey," said Hoffman.

At the center of the case are two key businesses in Newark. The Check Cashing Store, that proudly proclaims their support for the Newark Police Department on its front door, and Portucale Restaurant in the Ironbound.

Quaint and innocent in appearance on the outside, but inside was a completely different story according to the AG. Owner Abel Rodrigues' haunt was known for its seafood as well as his financial shrewdness. "We allege that over a 4-year period, the defendants illegally cashed over $400 million in checks," said Hoffman.

In the process, millions were allegedly pocketed in fees.

Jose Ventoso's reaction? "Oh boy, I'm surprised."

Ventoso had visited the restaurant in the past and shared with PIX 11 News that it was known as a place to cash checks. "I remember some of my friends working with me, they used to cash the checks there too, yes."

While the restaurant remained open, staffers were unaware of the arrests as well as the allegations.