Jose Luis Rivera pleaded not guilty at Newark’s Superior Court on Wednesday, according to a report on NorthJersey.com. His bail remains at $1 million.
Rivera, 48, was arrested on murder, conspiracy and weapons charges March 9, two weeks after 58-year-old Bloomfield business owner Joseph Rossi Sr. was found shot to death in his Floyd Avenue arcade shop, Phoenix Amusements.
Following the shooting, various newspapers linked Rossi’s death to the death of alleged mafia informant, “Nicholas “Nicky Skins” Stefanelli, 69, of Belleville. According to reports published in the New York Daily News and the New York Post, Stefanelli was suspected of shooting Rossi as an act of retaliation after Rossi allegedly “snitched on him" to authorities. Two days after Rossi’s death, Stefanelli was found dead at the Renaissance Meadowlands Hotel in Rutherford, an apparent suicide.
“Rossi allegedly ran afoul of Stefanelli after [Rossi] was busted in 2009 on tax charges and charges related to the illegal video-game machine trade,” reported the New York Post March 10. “Sources said that’s when he told authorities that he bought drugs from Stefanelli and his son, Nicholas Jr.”
Police sources told NBC New York March 9 that they believed there was a connection between Stefanelli and Rivera. Fueling public speculation are various media reports that Rivera, dubbed “Mafia muscle” by some tabloids, acted as a back-up and lookout for Stefanelli at the scene of the shooting.
“New Jersey police have arrested an alleged mob associate who is believed to have helped carry out the Bloomfield, N.J. murder,” stated the NBC New York article. “Police sources said they believe . . . . Jose Rivera may have accompanied Stefanelli at the Rossi murder.”
Leading up to his death, Rossi had been awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to tax-evasion and illegal-gambling charges filed in December 2009 by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark.
“The gambling charge alleged that Rossi had put illegal video poker and slot machines in a social club and a restaurant in Essex County and then shared the profits with the owners,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 8.
“Sources in law enforcement and underworld circles . . . said anyone dealing in the illegal video poker business would attract the mob's attention.”
But the article also states that Rossi's lawyer, Michael Pedicini, said there was no indication of any organized crime connection to his business.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has declined to comment on the case, except to say that the investigation is ongoing.
“I feel like he was a big brother that I lost," Valerie Pitts, Rossi's ex-sister-in-law, told the Verona-Cedar Grove Times in a story published Wednesday, March 14.
She described Rossi as a devoted father to his two sons, Joseph Jr. and Stephen, who graduated from Verona High School and are parishioners of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Verona. Joseph Jr. is a junior at Essex County Community College studying business. Stephen is a junior at Bloomsburg College in Pennsylvania majoring in communications.
“The boys are devastated,” stated another family member who asked not to be named.
Pitts recently set up an education fund to help her nephews.
Donations, payable to: "Valerie Pitts in care of Joseph and Stephen Rossi," can be mailed to Sheffield Station, P.O. Box 4213, Wayne, NJ 07470.