NEW YORK – A con man already imprisoned in a collectible coin scam was convicted by a jury on Thursday in a plot to avenge his sentence by hiring a hit man to decapitate the federal judge and the U.S. attorney in his fraud case.
The plot unfolded in 2012 after Joseph Romano was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $7 million in the coin scheme, which victimized elderly investors, prosecutors said. Six months into the sentence, another inmate reported through his lawyer that he had overheard Romano talk about seeking revenge, they said.
The inmate agreed to wear a wire and introduce Romano to an undercover federal agent pretending to be a hit man. Over the course of several recorded conversations, Romano arranged through a former business partner to pay the undercover agent $40,000 to carry out the killings, which were referred to in code as "Dodge trucks," prosecutors said.
During the trial, prosecutors also alleged that Romano sought to hire someone to assault a Long Island mechanic for repossessing one of his vintage cars. Undercover investigators staged a photo to make it look as though the mechanic had been knocked out in a beat-down.
The defense claimed the 50-year-old Romano was set up by a shady, convicted armed robber-turned-FBI informant who prodded him into participating in a phony mutilation plot that never went anywhere. Romano's rants about the judge and the prosecutor were meant solely to make more violent inmates leave him alone, one of his attorneys said in his opening statement.
"In order to survive, Joseph Romano had to talk a big game," defense lawyer Michael Bachrach said. "He was trying to sound tough."
Prosecutors said Romano confessed to the plot in a signed statement. The defense said he thought he was signing an agreement to cooperate against other criminals and possibly earn an early release.