By TOM HAYS
2014-04-15 03:01 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- A con man already imprisoned in a collectible coin scam was sentenced Monday to life in prison for a bizarre, behind-bars plot to decapitate a judge and a prosecutor.
Joseph Romano was convicted in January on charges he gave orders to have the prosecutor's breasts cut off as well, and that body parts should be preserved in formaldehyde as proof both people were dead. He claimed on Monday that he was framed by federal agents who fabricated the scheme as part of an undercover sting operation.
"I don't care what sentence you give me as long as I know one thing: I'm innocent," a defiant Joseph Romano told the judge in a rambling statement in federal court in Brooklyn. Romano, 51, went on for more than hour, referencing Charles Manson, literary classics such as "Moby Dick" and "A Christmas Carol" and his own weight -- 300 pounds (136 kilogram).
He insisted that the FBI targeted him to silence him. "They want to bury me," he said, pointing at grim-faced FBI agents sitting in the audience. "They want to shut me up. ... I've never hurt anybody."
U.S. District Judge John Keenan told Romano that he deserved life behind bars because trying to orchestrate a pair of contract killings "cannot be tolerated in a civilized society." Romano listened quietly, then gathered up a stack of documents and thanked the judge as he was led out of the courtroom.
The plot unfolded in 2012 after Romano was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $7 million in the coin scheme, which 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 hit man named Bobby Russo. 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, referred to in code as "Dodge trucks."
Jurors heard one recording where Romano gave instructions to shoot the judge, saying, "Find out where (the judge) is, go there and - boom - right in" the head. Prosecutors alleged that he wanted the prosecutor's body stuffed in a steel drum and dumped in a place where it could never be found.
Romano also was accused of trying to arrange an assault on a Long Island mechanic for repossessing one of his vintage muscle cars. Undercover investigators staged a photo to make it look as though the mechanic had been knocked out in a beat-down.