Man Convicted of Plot to Behead Judge and Prosecutor
A Long Island man has been found guilty of plotting to decapitate a federal judge and prosecutor after the government presented recordings, documents and a confession showing the man orchestrated the attempted assassinations for $40,000.
In reaching the verdict against Joseph Romano, the jury of nine women and three men needed three and one-half hours to reject Romano's defense that he was entrapped by an untrustworthy jailhouse snitch who pushed him into a plot targeting Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco and Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz.
Instead, the jury accepted prosecution arguments that Romano long sought, and was serious about, revenge against the pair for their roles in a coin fraud case where Romano pleaded guilty and received a 15-year sentence.
Romano stared down impassively at the defense table with hands clasped as the verdict was announced.
With convictions on two counts of conspiracy to murder an employee of the United States, Romano, 51, faces up to life imprisonment. He is scheduled to be sentenced in United States v. Romano, 12-cr-691 on March 31.
Defense attorneys George Goltzer and Michael Bachrach of Manhattan represented Romano. They declined to comment on the verdict outside the courtroom.
The case stems from the fraudulent dealings of telemarketing companies that Romano, of Levittown, owned between 2001 and 2008. Employees would call elderly coin collectors and try selling overvalued coins. Romano and others were subsequently arrested for the scheme, which netted millions of dollars.
Bianco, who presided over the case, sentenced Romano to 15 years in prison in February 2012. Gatz was the lead prosecutor.
Authorities learned of Romano's intentions to harm Bianco and Gatz through informant Gerald Machacek, who was incarcerated with Romano at Nassau County Correctional Center and was facing unrelated robbery, money laundering and gun possession charges.
Under tough defense questioning during trial, Machacek testified that he notified authorities about Romano's plot because he was concerned for the officials' safety. Machacek acknowledged having a cooperation agreement but said it only occurred to him later that he could help his own case by reporting the information.
Once Machacek contacted authorities, Romano was approached by an undercover Suffolk County police detective posing as a hit man offering his services.
Romano then arranged the beating of a car mechanic and the attempted murders of the judge and prosecutor through coded communications with Dejvid Mirkovic, a business associate and now-sentenced co-defendant. Romano said he wanted the victims' heads stored in formaldehyde as "souvenirs."
Mirkovic, who was sentenced to 24 years in August 2013 after pleading guilty, did not testify at Romano's trial.
The mechanic's beating was staged and Romano and Mirkovic were arrested in October 2012. When Mirkovic was taken into custody, he was found with $18,000 and a loaded handgun after paying the fake hit man $22,000.
Before reaching yesterday's verdict, the jury reviewed the first wired conversation between Romano and Machacek, which took place in a Central Islip federal court holding pen in August 2012. The defense insisted that the approximately one-hour encounter was critical for the jury to consider, because it illustrated how Machacek allegedly prodded Romano, who was susceptible to bluster, into talking about plans for murder when he was instead focused on fighting pending restitution proceedings in the fraud case (NYLJ, Jan. 10).
To avoid conflicts, the case was specially assigned to Southern District Judge John Keenan.
The prosecution's case was supervised by the office of Western District U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr., but was handled in court by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller, chief of the office's criminal division, and Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorneys Una Dean.
"A threat against a member of the criminal justice system, such as a judge or an attorney, is nothing less than an attempt to subvert the system, and as such will not be tolerated," Hochul said in a statement.