It was like a scene from “The Sopranos.”
New Jersey mobster Manny “Guitarbarr” Rodriguez cornered a man who owed him money in a Newark restaurant in 1995, aiming to deliver a message on the consequences of not paying up.
The “ultra violent” enforcer, nightclub owner and loan shark at the New Jersey ports ordered a pal to hold the arms of gym owner Gilberto Rubio. Then Rodriguez ripped a gold chain from the man’s neck and stabbed him once in the chest, according to police sources and investigative records.
“It was a ‘don’t f–k with me’ injury,” a law enforcement source familiar with the incident told The Post.
The source said that Rubio, who survived the bloody attack, had fallen behind on loan payments and gambling debts to Rodriguez, an associate of the Genovese crime family. Rodriguez — who’d just gotten out of jail for shooting another man while trying to collect unpaid sports bets in 1991 — was never prosecuted in the alleged stabbing.
Rodriguez’s influence on the docks over the past three decades has tormented the Waterfront Commission, a Mafia-fighting unit now facing a crisis in the wake of Gov. Phil Murphy’s bid to pull New Jersey from the joint, two-state agency. New York, meanwhile, is suing to try to prevent that from happening.
The Genovese associate has been a key target of the commission, which has long sought to keep him and his circle of connected pals from turning their access to port business and the longshoreman’s union into illicit cash, according to investigators.
They describe the task as nearly impossible, given that the people who run the docks and the union that represents its workers continue to award six-figure jobs to wiseguys, their friends and relatives — including the nephew of late Genovese godfather Vincent “The Chin” Gigante — all while providing opportunities for theft and corruption.
“Despite the commission’s notable successes, organized crime still very much continues to exist on the waterfront,” said its executive director, Walter Arsenault, in a statement in the case involving New Jersey’s attempt to withdraw from the agency, which the New York State Supreme court has temporarily stopped. A ruling is expected early next year.
The knifing of Rubio, investigators said, illustrates the difficulty of keeping goodfellas out of the ports. Rodriguez beat the case against him with a little help from his friend Benvenuti Pugliese, according to commission investigators who looked into the alleged crime.
Pugliese, a former dock supervisor who lost his job after he defrauded the union’s pension fund, came forward and claimed that the alleged victim, Rubio, grabbed Rodriguez by the testicles and punched him in the face. He said he didn’t see any weapon or any gold chain being yanked from his neck.
“He was saying it was self-defense,” said a law-enforcement source, noting that because no other witness could back Rubio’s account, or refute Pugliese’s, prosecutors decided not to proceed with their case against Rodriguez. Even though detectives concluded that Pugliese “was not telling the truth.”
“[He] changed his answers numerous times throughout the interview,” the investigating detectives’ report said. “He was evasive, agitated and self-contradicting.”
Pugliese — who also placed bets with Rodriguez and borrowed money from him — recently applied for reinstatement, and got the support of the International Longshoremen’s Association union, despite his registration as a port checker having been revoked in 2018. A judge found that he’d helped himself to $30,000 from the union’s Prudential Pension Fund to try to buy property “at an address that did not exist.”
Rodriguez, 64, who calls himself “Guitarbarr” after the name of his now-shuttered club, was himself barred from the docks following his guilty plea to money laundering charges in 2019.
Even so, investigators say, he continues to cash in from his waterfront connections: He runs a cleaning company with a contract to service two ILA offices, has a new nightclub in Newark frequented by dock workers and remains a valued associate of the Genovese family, although Rodriguez can’t be an official member due to his Hispanic ancestry.
“He’s part of Mikey Cigars’ crew,” said a source familiar with Rodriguez’s criminal history, referring to notorious Genovese capo Michael Coppola — who went on the lam in 1996 after allegedly killing a fellow mobster at a New Jersey motel in 1977, a case that languished for nearly two decades before cops caught a break and issued a warrant for Coppola’s arrest.
He eventually was apprehended, and tried for the murder and for extorting the ILA in 2009. A jury acquitted him on the homicide but found him guilty of a RICO crime related to the extortion. He’s set to be released from prison in October 2023.
“Manny is as respected as any of the made guys,” said the source. “If he were Italian, there’s no doubt he’d get made.”
Rodriguez, who served just 11 months of his four-year money-laundering sentence and got out in 2020, proudly advertises his friendships on his “Guitarbarr” Facebook page — a valuable source of information for the Waterfront Commission, which has the power to boot hires at the ports if they lie about their crimes or cozy dealings with gangsters in their applications.
It’s taken action nine times this year against dock workers, one of whom, Farid Amado, is pals with Rodriguez but claimed in his job interview that he didn’t know why the ex-con had been locked up.
Commission investigators then discovered that the two men had six years of interactions on Facebook, where Amado, a Port Elizabeth longshoreman who worked moving shipping containers, was “continuously expressing fawning love and devotion” to the mobster. Rodriguez even attended Amado’s brother’s funeral.
Based on all that, they found Amado’s purported ignorance of Rodriguez’s crime “simple incredible” and had him fired.
This article was originally posted here