Inside the mob ties that plague ‘RHONJ’ star Dina Manzo’s family
It’s enough to make you want to gulp a “Real Housewives”-size glass of pinot grigio.
Because of the twisted love story between former “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Dina Manzo, 47, and ex-husband Tommy Manzo, history is repeating itself for one of northern New Jersey’s more infamous families. The Manzos have been forced to deny mob ties once again.
On Tuesday, Tommy, 55, pleaded not guilty to federal charges of hiring a Lucchese crime family soldier to beat up Dina’s new husband, David Cantin, whom she wed in 2017, a year after divorcing Tommy.
Although Dina and Tommy, who have no children together, split up in 2012, they didn’t officially divorce until 2016. During the years in between, she began dating entrepreneur Cantin.
But Tommy wasn’t out of her life.
According to federal charges revealed Monday, Tommy allegedly planned and carried out “an assault” on Cantin in 2015. At the time, Cantin and Dina were dating and Tommy, according to the indictment, was “upset” about it.
Tommy and Dina married in 2005, in an over-the-top event that played out on the VH1 reality series “My Big Fabulous Wedding.” This was four years before Dina joined “Real Housewives of New Jersey.” It was a family affair, as her castmates included Dina’s older sister Caroline Manzo and Jacqueline Laurita, who is wed to the sisters’ brother Chris.
Caroline, 58 and a former “RHONJ” cast member herself, is notorious for saying, “Let me tell you about my family, we’re thick as thieves.”
She’s not kidding. Tommy’s brother Albert Manzo is married to Caroline, making sisters Dina and Caroline also sisters-in-law at one point.
“I grew up with Dina, I knew her since she was 7,” Albert told The Post, “We don’t want a hair on her head harmed. She is still my sister-in-law. She always will be.”
It’s unclear why the indictment is happening now, five years after the event. But Caroline told “Extra” TV her family was “heartbroken” over the charges.
“This is family on both sides,” she said. “I want to know the truth and my allegiance will lie with the truth. We don’t run from things like this, we address them, and I feel comfortable with that because we are being painted with a brush that does not reflect who we are as people.”
As Tommy’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, put it: “The allegations are right out of a fictional plot of a reality-TV show.”
Accusations that the Manzos were mobbed up date back to 1983 when the paterfamilias, 400-pound Albert “Tiny” Manzo Sr., was executed gangland-style in August 1983. Tiny, the father of Albert and Tommy, was found in the trunk of his Lincoln Continental outside a supermarket in Hillside, NJ: naked, his arms and legs tied with plastic, with four bullet holes in his torso.
He and Gambino family soldier Peter A. Campisi had reportedly skimmed money from a Mafia-connected casino on Staten Island. In a book called “Undercover Cop” by Mike Russell, Tiny Manzo was described as “the biggest enforcer in Jersey.”
Tiny Manzo was so heavy, it took police several hours to extract his body from the Lincoln.
A longtime criminal-defense attorney who represented some of the Mafia figures Albert Sr. was said to be involved with told The Post that the lines between “made guys and the goombas they hung out with” can be blurry.
“That’s kind of how they do business in Paterson,” the attorney said. “These people are not exactly Boston Brahmins.”
But Albert Sr.’s son says it was all a misunderstanding.
“My father was no gangster,” Albert said. “He was a wonderful, hardworking man. He was never accused of anything else pertaining to being a gangster. The shame of it is that our family were the victims of a murder which was never solved, and it was spun as a mob hit.”
Albert said his brother Tommy isn’t guilty of anything but hard work as well.
“I believe my brother is innocent. My father was, too,” Albert said. “It’s awful what happened to Dina’s husband. We just have to hope that whoever really did this is found and goes to jail.” Albert added that Tommy is out on bail and back at his side running The Brownstone — the restaurant and catering hall in Paterson that the brothers run.
The Manzos’ current troubles stem from the volatile marriage of Dina and Tommy, a union doomed from the start — on “My Big Fabulous Wedding,” she admitted she married him knowing he had already cheated on her.
Family and friends say it was a case of a woman who loved too much and a man who didn’t appreciate her.
“It was Dina who decided she wanted them to split,” Albert said. “It was never Tommy. Tommy wanted her. He wanted them to stay together.”
According to the indictment, Tommy enlisted the help of John Perna, 45, an alleged member of the Lucchese crime family, to assault Cantin in July 2015. Perna and another alleged Lucchese crew member followed Cantin to a strip mall in Passaic County where they attacked him with a slapjack, a small club that’s swung at someone to inflict injury, the indictment said. Perna pled not guilty.
Cantin suffered “serious bodily injury” and a “permanent facial scar.”
“She leaves him and goes off with a new, younger guy? His ego couldn’t take it.”
Perna did this in exchange for a “deeply discounted” wedding reception at The Brownstone, which happened about a month later and was attended by about 330 people, including members of the Lucchese family, according to the feds.
“RHONJ” star Kim DePaola says there is a reason Dina decided to leave her husband. “[The divorce] is not on Dina, it’s all on Tommy,” DePaola told The Post. “Dina was madly in love with him and she sat home every night waiting for him. She was a good wife. He was off at The Brownstone doing his thing, if you catch what I’m saying.”
Tommy Manzo allegedly “did his thing” with so many women that Dina once confronted one of them, who told her to “take it up with your husband,” DePaola said.
So what happened to make Tommy go after Dina’s new guy, as the feds believe?
“Here’s the thing, Tommy is actually not a bad guy,” DePaola said. “He’s mild-mannered, very lovely to people at The Brownstone. I think it was a man thing. They want what they can’t have. He didn’t want Dina when she was starving for attention and was dying for his love but when she leaves him and goes off with a new, younger guy? His ego couldn’t take it. He got too wrapped up, that’s my take.
“It’s hard not to notice that her new guy looks like a younger version of Tommy. I’ll leave it at that.”
As for mob ties, DePaola added that neither Albert nor Tommy are “in the life.” She also said their dad was not a “full-on gangster” but was killed after he “did something the full-ons didn’t like.”
“When you’re a full-on you have to abide by some rules and regulations of the life,” DePaola said. “From what I know, [Tiny] maybe did something that was not following the rules the full-ons had to follow and they wanted to send a message.”
Now people are wondering if a 2017 home invasion on Dina and Cantin’s Holmdel, NJ, residence may have been connected to the 2015 attack on Cantin.
Manzo and Cantin, now 39, told Holmdel police at the time that, when they walked into their house, they were confronted by two men already inside. One man struck Cantin several times with a baseball bat while Manzo was punched multiple times by the other man. They were then bound together while the thieves made off with cash and jewelry. Cantin, a father of two, eventually was able to free himself and call 911. They were taken to a local hospital and received treatment for facial injuries.
At the time, Manzo and Cantin were living in California, where they currently reside, but were visiting their home state for the First Communion party for Dina’s goddaughter Audriana Giudice — the daughter of “RHONJ” castmate Teresa Giudice.
The bizarre attack featured, according to the affidavit, “an Italian guy with a North Jersey accent” telling the pair: “This is what happens when you f–k with people from Paterson.”
James “Jimmy Balls” Mainello, 52, of Bayonne, was indicted on charges related to the home invasion last summer. His lawyer Marco Laracca told The Post his client is innocent and is looking to be “fully exonerated.”
DePaola figures it had to have been ordered by someone who knows Dina. “They were only home from California for two days for the christening. Isn’t it kind of a coincidence that the home invasion happened then? Who else but people in Dina’s circle knew they would even be home?” said DePaola. “That type of burglar does a little homework. That house had been empty.”
Dina and Cantin got on a plane right after the 2017 attack and as far as DePaola knows, haven’t been back to Jersey since.
“Dina’s been through a lot and I think she’s been scared s–tless by everything that’s happened,” DePaola said. “You know what? She was a girl looking for love and she finally found it.
“Tommy didn’t want her until she was gone. It’s his loss. She came out ahead.”
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