NEW YORK (AP) — A New York con man cooked up a gruesome plot behind bars to avenge his harsh sentence by hiring a hit man to decapitate the federal judge and U.S. attorney on his fraud case, prosecutors said Thursday at an attempted murder trial. The defense accused authorities of entrapment.
The government alleges Joseph Romano gave orders that he wanted the prosecutor's breasts cut off as well and that all the body parts should be preserved in formaldehyde as proof both people were dead.
Even though Romano pleaded guilty to fraud in 2012, he "wasn't sorry," Assistant U.S. Attorney Una Dean said in opening statements in federal court in Brooklyn. "In fact, he was furious. ... So what did he do? He turned to violence — gruesome and deadly violence."
The defense claims 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 U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco and prosecutor Lara Treinis-Gatz 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," said the lawyer, Michael Bachrach. "He was trying to sound tough."
The case unfolded in 2012 after Romano was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $7 million in a collectible coin scheme that victimized elderly investors. Six months into the sentence, another inmate reported through his lawyer that he had overheard Romano talk about seeking revenge.
The inmate agreed to wear a wire and introduce Romano to an undercover federal agent pretending to be a professional hit man. Over the course of several recorded conversations, Romano arranged through a former business partner to pay the undercover $40,000 to carry out the killings that were referred to in code as "Dodge trucks."
The prosecutor told jurors Thursday they will hear one recording where Romano gave instructions to shoot the judge, saying, "Find out where Bianco is, go there and — boom — right in" the head. He also wanted Treinis-Gatz's body stuffed in a 35-gallon drum and dumped in a place where it could never be found, they added.
In a recorded phone call played for the jury during the testimony of a federal investigator who was the trial's first witness, Romano complained that he was "sentenced to 15 years by a scumbag judge" and wouldn't serve all of it.
Prosecutors claim Romano confessed to the plot in a signed statement. The defense says he thought he was signing an agreement to cooperate against other criminals and possibly earn an early release.
Romano, of Levittown on Long Island, faces a possible life term if convicted on two counts of conspiring to kill U.S. employees. His trial is expected to last three weeks.
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