Pair convicted in coin swindle

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Two Long Island men were convicted Monday of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering in connection with a scam to cheat customers out of $30 million by using high-pressure tactics to sell coins at vastly inflated prices, federal officials said.

Michael Romano, 45, of Levittown, and William Kearney, 36, of East Islip, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit both fraud and money laundering after a six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, officials said. The jury returned its verdict after a day and a half of deliberations.

Kearney's attorney, Michael Bachner, said after the verdict, "We respectfully disagree with the jury's verdict, and plan to pursue an appeal." Romano's attorney could not be reached immediately for comment.

Federal prosecutors Lara Treinis Gatz and Christopher Ott declined to comment.

Victims of the scheme, mostly elderly and from outside the New York area, were sold inferior-grade U.S. coins passed off as coins of higher quality or of investment grade, Treinis Gatz and Ott said during the trial. The coins, mainly collectible United States Franklin and Liberty half-dollars, were actually only worth 14 or 15 cents for every dollar the victims paid, the prosecutors said.

One victim who testified at the trial, Sharon Oldham, a widow from Kentucky, said one salesman involved in the scheme called her as many at twelve times a day to get her to invest. Prosecutors said she lost $13,300.

In their remarks to the jury, prosecutors Ott and Treinis Gatz said that when Romano and Kearney had a victim who bought some coins at inflated values, their salespeople would repeatedly attempt to sell the person more coins.

Romano and Kearney's defense attorneys maintained that their clients operated in good faith, and, in defense attorney's Bachner's words, there were "reasonable doubts all over the place" about the value grades of the coins.

The scheme began in the early 1990s and operated from three different businesses, according to prosecutors: Wall Street Rare Coins in Massapequa; and Atlantic Coin Galleries and Northeast Gold and Silver, both in Lindenhurst.

Romano and Kearney were among eleven people charged in November of 2008 in various coin boiler room schemes. The others pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, officials said. Romano and Kearney each face up to 40 years in prison when they are sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco.

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