Trial Opens for Convict Accused of Plot to Decapitate U.S. Judge

, New York Law Journal

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Joseph Romano mugshot
Joseph Romano

Joseph Romano, enraged over his imprisonment in a multimillion-dollar coin fraud scheme, opted for "gruesome and deadly" revenge by plotting to have a federal judge and prosecutor killed and to keep their heads as souvenirs, a prosecutor said yesterday as Romano's trial began.

But the defense insisted that Romano—prone to bluster and bravado to keep up appearances in jail— was entrapped by a government informant looking to "milk" and "prod" Romano to avert his own lengthy sentence. And it insisted that the government officials never were in any danger.

Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Una Dean said Romano masterminded the beheading plan, talking in code and arranging $40,000 for the murders of Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco (See Profile) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz.

In a "sickening twist," Dean said Romano asked for the pair's heads in formaldehyde to keep as "souvenirs."

Once arrested, Romano confessed, she said.

Dean told the jury Romano's "guilt will be clear" after it heard recordings of Romano discussing the plans and saw other evidence. In one recording, Romano allegedly said, "Find out where Bianco is. Go there. Boom. Right in the f---ing head," she said.

But Michael Bachrach of Manhattan argued that his client was set up by fellow inmate, Gerald Machacek, whom he described as a "career criminal" facing robbery, money laundering and gun possession charges. The case's key questions, said Bachrach, was whether his client was "induced" to act by Machacek, and if he was induced, whether he was "predisposed to commit murder prior to the time Gerry Machacek got his claws" into Romano.

Bachrach said the prosecution could prove neither allegation against his client, a married man with three children who was "just talk" and had already accepted responsibility for his underlying conviction for a non-violent crime. Any confession to the murder plot was irrelevant because it was the product of entrapment, Bachrach maintained.

Romano, 50, listened and occasionally took notes during openings in United States v. Romano, 12-cr-691.

He is charged with two counts of conspiracy to murder an employee of the United States and faces up to life imprisonment if convicted.

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