A man who pleaded guilty to defrauding coin collectors of millions of dollars has been charged with plotting to kill the federal judge and prosecutor who handled his case, allegedly requesting their heads as a “souvenir.”
Joseph Romano, who is serving a 15-year prison term for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, along with his business associate, Dejvid Mirkovic, were charged yesterday with offering $40,000 to arrange the deaths of Eastern District Judge Joseph Bianco (See Profile) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Gatz and giving a $22,000 down-payment to an undercover police officer.
Romano, 49, and Mirkovic, 38, face up to life in prison if convicted.
“Romano thought he was buying revenge. Instead, he bought the full force of the law, along with a possible life sentence,” Eastern District U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “By allegedly targeting for death dedicated public servants, the defendants attempted to strike a blow to the heart of our criminal justice system. Today’s arrests send an unequivocal message that any plot to harm or intimidate our judges and prosecutors will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.”
Mirkovic was arrested yesterday morning at his home in Lake Worth, Fla., where he was found with $18,000 in cash and a loaded semi-automatic handgun, authorities said.
Mirkovic had an initial court appearance yesterday afternoon before Southern District of Florida Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon.
Jack Goldberger of Atterbury, Goldberger & Weiss, who represented Mirkovic at the appearance, said in an interview that his client agreed to come to New York to face the charges. He said the evidence would show Mirkovic, who is currently in custody, was “tricked into participating in this crime and never had the intent to commit a crime.”
Romano’s initial court appearance was scheduled in Central Islip before Magistrate Judge Gary Brown (See Profile).
The case will be tried in Central Islip, said a spokesman for Lynch.
While the press release and court papers do not identify the targeted judge and prosecutor and the spokesman would neither confirm or deny their identities, a review of the file on the underlying fraud case indicates that Bianco presided over the case and Gatz was the lead prosecutor.
Romano was one of four men indicted in March 2009 who netted $40 million in connection with an eight-year boiler room scheme that sold coins to elderly victims at vastly inflated prices.
According to the government, Romano’s operation told potential purchasers that it had other buyers for completed coin when, in fact, no such buyers existed.
Mirkovic was not one of the codefendants in that case.
In September 2010, Romano pleaded guilty and Bianco sentenced him in February 2012 to 15 years in prison and also ordered the forfeiture of $7 million. At sentencing, some of the victims spoke of losing their life savings in connection to the scam.
According to court papers filed in connection with yesterday’s arrests, authorities in early August received information from a confidential informant that Romano was looking for a hit man to kill Bianco and Gatz. Romano allegedly “discussed in detail his desire to torture and kill” the judge and prosecutor.
An undercover police officer, posing as a hit man and wearing video and audio recording devices, met with Romano at Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow over several meetings.
As a test, Romano initially offered the officer $3,000 to assault an unnamed individual with whom Romano had a “financial dispute.” Romano told the officer once the first job was completed he would hire the officer for “a big job, some serious work,” according to one recorded conversation.
Mirkovic had several phone calls with the undercover officer to arrange the down-payment for the assault.
On Sept. 25, Mirkovic traveled from Florida to New York to meet with the officer again after the officer told him the assault was done. In fact, the officer produced staged photos of the assault, according to a press release announcing the charges.
With the initial job completed, Mirkovic met with Romano that same day and then relayed information to the officer from Romano that he wanted Bianco and Gatz killed.
An FBI agent said in an affidavit that Mirkovic “provided specific requests from Romano regarding the manner in which the murders should take place.
Romano requested that the “heads of both the judge and the AUSA be preserved in formaldehyde as souvenirs,” the agent said.
Mirkovic also told the officer that Romano was willing to pay more for the “souvenirs” if the officer was willing to store them until Romano’s release.
Mirkovic paid the officer $12,000 on Sept. 25 and another $10,000 on Oct. 2.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Canty, Diane Leonardo and John Durham.
Romano is represented by Joseph Kilada of Carle Place, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Andrew Keshner is a reporter for the New York Law Journal, a Legal affiliate.