Joseph Romano
Joseph Romano ()

A Long Island man was sentenced to two life terms in prison Monday after being convicted of plotting, while behind bars, to behead and dismember a federal judge and prosecutor.

The sentence in Brooklyn federal court for Joseph Romano came after a jury on Jan. 23 found him guilty of two counts of conspiracy to murder an employee of the United States.

At a two-week trial before Southern District of New York Judge John Keenan, prosecutors presented video recordings, documents and alleged admissions showing Romano, 51, had orchestrated the attempted assassinations of Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco and Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz for $40,000 as revenge for their roles in convicting Romano in an earlier coin-fraud case.

Bianco had sentenced Romano, of Levittown, to 15 years in prison in 2012 for operating telemarketing companies that sold overvalued coins to elderly coin collectors, netting millions of dollars for himself from 2001 to 2008.

But in Romano’s criminal trial in United States v. Romano, 12-cr-691, defense attorneys Michael Bachrach and George Goltzer argued their client was entrapped by the government and led to believe he had access to a hit man who was actually an undercover detective.

Law enforcement authorities learned of the plot through Romano’s fellow inmate at the Nassau County Correctional Facility, Gerald Machacek, who became a government informant and was fitted with a recording device. Machacek offered to put Romano in touch with a hit man. Over the course of several weeks, Romano and co-conspirator Dejvid Mirkovic paid an undercover officer a $22,000 down payment for the two murders.

They promised the remaining $18,000 upon completion, plus a “bonus” for cutting off their targets’ heads.

In recorded conversations played in court, Romano referred to the proposed murders in code as “Dodge trucks.”

But ultimately, no one was hurt, Goltzer said at Monday’s sentencing, and Romano never intended to actually carry out the crime. Furthermore, Romano never would have gotten as far as he did without government involvement, Goltzer added.

“Had not the government provided the opportunity, this never would have occurred,” Goltzer said. He argued his client deserved the same 24-year sentence imposed on Mirkovic, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced in August 2013.

Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller disagreed, saying that Romano played an “aggravated role” in the plot and deserved a life sentence because he had a longer criminal history than Mirkovic.

“The murders [Romano] intended to commit have devastated the families and friends of the victims,” said Miller, chief of the office’s criminal division. He was assisted by Eastern District U.S. Attorneys Una Dean and Brian Morris. The case was supervised by the office of Western District U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr.

Romano maintained his innocence at Monday’s sentencing. He told Keenan that government agencies conspired to set him up because he threatened to expose alleged misconduct committed by Gatz in the coin fraud case.

In a rambling, hour-long monologue, Romano compared himself to literary characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, a businessman he characterized as ‘misunderstood,’ and the great white whale in Moby Dick, which was pursued by sailors intent on exacting revenge because it had damaged their ship on a previous voyage.

“The government put a red shirt on me and came at me with an absurd charge,” Romano said, at times raising his voice at undercover FBI officers who had testified against him at trial and were seated in the courtroom Monday.

Romano painted himself as a “charitable man,” listing his past charitable donations and volunteer work behind bars helping other prisoners study for their GEDs.

“I’m a 300-pound man,” Romano said. “I may look scary to some people, but…I have never put my hands on another man.”

Keenan was not swayed. He gave Romano two life sentences, the maximum penalty for each charge, to run consecutively with the 15-year sentence he is already serving for the coin-fraud scheme.

“Your conduct and plots to kill a prosecutor and judge cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” Keenan told Romano.

“Other would-be assassins must understand this conduct is punished and will not be tolerated.”

Romano stood straight with his hands folded and did not react when Keenan read his sentence. He told the judge, “I don’t care what sentence you give me as long as I know one thing: I’m innocent.”

Bachrach and Glotzer said after the hearing they will appeal. The Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.