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The sordid and violent tale laid out by federal prosecutors seemed ripped from “The Sopranos”: A well-connected ex-husband, angry that his former wife had found a new boyfriend, enticed a New Jersey mobster to beat the boyfriend up by dangling the prospect of a cut-rate deal on a flashy wedding reception.

And, in fact, the case did turn out to have a link to a television show — the victim, Dave Cantin, was dating Dina Manzo, a former cast member of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

The weapon prosecutors said was used in the attack also seemed like something out of a scripted plot — a slapjack, a small club weighed down at one end and designed to inflict severe pain but not necessarily life-threatening injuries.

On Wednesday, John Perna, who prosecutors said was a member of the Lucchese crime family, pleaded guilty to his role in the plot. It was unclear how much prison time he faces. The man prosecutors say was his accomplice, Thomas Manzo, the ex-husband, pleaded not guilty in June and will stand trial in April.

Mr. Manzo proposed the attack, prosecutors say, after Mr. Perna scheduled a wedding reception five years ago at the Brownstone, an upscale 1800s-era venue in Paterson, N.J., that played a prominent role in the New Jersey edition of the Real Housewives franchise and that is partly owned by Mr. Manzo.

Credit…Scott Roth/Invision, via Associated Press

The attack happened about a month before Mr. Perna’s wedding, when he and one of his associates surprised Mr. Cantin outside a strip mall in Passaic County in northern New Jersey and beat him, according to the indictment. It was unclear how badly Mr. Cantin, who married Ms. Manzo in 2019, was hurt.

The following month, more than 330 people — many of them members of the Lucchese family — gathered to celebrate Mr. Perna’s wedding at a lavish reception at Mr. Manzo’s restaurant, whose website promises a “perfect backdrop for the wedding of your dreams.” Mr. Perna paid only a fraction of the normal price, prosecutors said.

Mr. Manzo was charged with the assault and also with falsifying and concealing records related to the investigation.

He provided false documents related to Mr. Perna’s wedding reception to investigators, prosecutors said, leading federal agents to carry out a search warrant at the restaurant that turned up the actual invoices.

A lawyer for Mr. Manzo did not respond on Wednesday for a request for comment. A lawyer for Ms. Manzo and Mr. Cantin said his clients would have no comment.

The Manzo family has been a prominent part of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” which premiered on Bravo in 2009. At least three members of the family have appeared on the show since then: Dina Manzo, along with Thomas Manzo’s brother Albert and his wife, Caroline. Mr. Manzo is often mentioned, but is not an on-camera regular.

The family is well-connected in New Jersey. They are known to be close to Bernard B. Kerik, the disgraced former New York City police commissioner and former nominee for secretary of Homeland Security, who appeared in early promos of the reality show with a snarling attack dog.

“Some intruder’s in my house? That’s his problem,” Caroline Manzo deadpanned for the camera, as Mr. Kerik’s German shepherd lunged at another man’s padded arm.

Mr. Kerik also used the Brownstone as the site of a 2008 event to raise money for his legal defense against federal charges of corruption, tax evasion and perjury.

The Manzo family’s apparent brush with organized crime recalled an earlier episode in its history: Mr. Manzo’s father, a 350-pound man nicknamed Tiny, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Paterson before he bought the Brownstone in the 1970s.

In 1983, Tiny Manzo was found dead in the trunk of his Lincoln Continental with four bullet wounds to his chest. The killing was never solved.

In October, Craig Carpenito, the United States attorney for New Jersey, complained in court filings that Mr. Manzo had refused to turn over information about his employment and finances. Mr. Manzo’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, rejected that categorization.

When Mr. Manzo applied to have the conditions of his bail modified so that he could travel from New Jersey to New York at his own discretion, which he said was necessary for medical appointments and meetings, Mr. Carpenito urged the court to say no.

“Since his initial appearance, the defendant has made it clear that he has no intention of disclosing his financial and employment information as directed by this court,” Mr. Carpenito wrote. “This triggers the government’s skepticism about Manzo’s intent to abide by the conditions of release.”

The court was not persuaded. On Dec. 10, Judge Cathy L. Waldor granted Mr. Manzo’s request.



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