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Long Island man gets life for plot to decapitate judge, prosecutor

Joseph Romano, 51, of Levittown (left), was sentenced to life in prison for a plot to behead a federal judge and prosecutor.
Credit: Handout/US Department of Justice

A Long Island man was sentenced Monday to spend the rest of his life in prison after plotting from a jail cell to decapitate a federal judge and prosecutor who sent him behind bars in a coin scam.

Joseph Romano, 51, of Levittown, repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, insisting he was entrapped by the government, in a rambling speech that lasted more than an hour before Judge John Keenan at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

“Had not the government provided this opportunity, this never would have occurred,” Romano’s defense lawyer, George Goltzer told the judge. “Mr. Romano should have the opportunity to be with his family,” he said, asking the judge to set aside the sentencing recommendation of life imprisonment.

Before sentencing Romano to two terms of life in prison, the judge said Romano’s actions “cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” adding the sentence would send a message to other “would-be assassins.”

A jury convicted Romano in January after finding he gave orders to behead Federal Judge Joseph Bianco and mutilate and murder Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Gatz, both of whom were involved in a prior case that left Romano serving a 15-year sentence for fleecing senior citizens in a collectible coin scheme.

Authorities allege he hatched the murderous plot from the Nassau County jail in 2012 by contacting an intermediary to hire a hit man – who was actually an undercover cop – to carry out the slayings. He then allegedly gave orders to have the prosecutor’s breasts cut off and preserved in formaldehyde – for him to claim later – and then stuff her body in a steel drum and dump it where it couldn’t be found.

Prosecutors said Monday that Romano has shown a “stunning lack of remorse” for his ruthless plot.

“He picked the targets, he trolled the Nassau County Correctional Center to find a hit man and he financed [the plan],” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller said. “He enjoyed the anticipation of revenge.”

Miller also said Roman was caught in a recorded phone call from jail telling his alleged accomplice he was “dancing around his cell, singing and laughing,” after he heard the assassin agreed to be part of the plot.

Romano argued he was the victim of a government setup.

“I was attacked by the government,” he said. “The FBI are the authors of this crime…they want me to shut up, but it’s all in the paperwork and they can’t shut the paperwork up,” he said loudly, often gesturing to federal agents seated in the courtroom.

In addition to telling the court about his military service, charity work and tropical vacations, Romano also tried to argue he was wrongly convicted in the coin fraud case, but was stopped by the judge and reminded he pleaded guilty to that crime.

“Let’s wrap this up now,” the judge said at one point. “It’s been nearly an hour. Let’s go.”

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