Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Special Agent in Charge Michael Ward of the FBI have announced an arrest has been made in connection with the homicide of Bloomfield business owner Joseph Rossi, Sr.
Rossi, 58, of Verona, was found shot to death on February 24 at his Floyd Avenue business, an arcade company called Phoenix Amusements.
According to a statement issued by the prosecutor’s office Friday evening, detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Major Crimes Task Force and special agents of the FBI arrested Jose Luis Rivera, age 48, of Plainfield, N.J., on Friday morning. Rivera has been charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons charges.
Rivera is currently being held in the Essex County Correctional Facility pending arraignment. His bail is set at $1 million.
The investigation of this homicide is continuing and is being jointly conducted by the FBI and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Task Force. The Essex County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the arrest of Rivera, the press release said.
Rivera’s arrest appears at odds with several New York newspaper articles published Friday reporting Rossi’s murder was carried out by mob informant, “Nicholas “Nicky Skins” Stefanelli, 69, of Belleville, as an act of retaliation. The reports said Stefanelli allegedly shot Rossi two days before taking his own life on February 26 at the Renaissance Meadowlands Hotel in Rutherford.
One of the stories connecting Stefanelli’s death to Rossi’s was published last night by the New York Daily News, citing information from a website, Ganglandnews.com.
“[Stefanelli] had been caught in a drug-dealing operation with his son and decided to cooperate to get his kid off the hook,” the Daily News reported. “The [Ganglandnews.com] site said Stefanelli — who served eight years in two prison stints — blamed Rossi for snitching on him."
“Our investigation is continuing at this time,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly told Patch on Friday evening. He would neither confirm nor deny the New York newspaper reports.
On Friday evening, an NBC New York article stated, "Police sources said they believe . . . Jose Rivera may have accompanied Stefanelli at the Rossi murder. Rivera is being questioned and charges are pending in connection with the Feb. 24 Rossi killing, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity."
Meantime, the New York Post on Saturday described Rivera as a "Mafia hanger-on."
"The FBI and local prosecutors believe José Luis “Lucky” Rivera served as 'muscle' and a possible lookout when Nicholas “Nicky Skins” Stefanelli blew away Joker Poker machine peddler Joseph Rossi Sr."
The article added that investigators do not believe that Rivera actually shot Rossi but do believe he tagged along with Stefanelli as a backup.
"It was not clear whether Rivera was a Mafia associate or just a local thug Stefanelli recruited for the slaying," the Post said.
On February 25, an employee who found Rossi’s body told a local shop owner that Rossi had been shot in the back of the head.
A business associate of Rossi's also told Patch he thought Rossi might have known his assailant because he always kept the door to his business locked and only opened it to those he knew.
“[Rossi] always kept his door locked. I’d have to call him to unlock the door and let me in,” recalled the business acquaintance, who had known Rossi for many years. “His nickname in the business was “Bad Joe Rossi” -- he wasn’t well liked in the [arcade] operating community. He was known for stepping on toes and for making deals.”
News that the FBI was involved in the case began surfacing in the Bloomfield community in the days following Rossi’s murder. Residents reported seeing FBI and other official vehicles surrounding the premises of Phoenix Amusements while local police patrol units guarded the area. The patrol cars remained on the premises, which was closed off by police barricades, for more than a week.
"When I asked my cop friend [about it], he said that is not usual procedure," commented one Bloomfield resident.
Bloomfield Police Chief Christopher Goul told Patch, "At this juncture I have no comment."