A confidence man who operated three businesses on Long Island that used high-pressure tactics to sell coins at vastly overinflated prices -- preying mainly on elderly victims -- was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday by a federal judge who blasted his activities.
The scheme of Joseph Romano, 49, was "a massive fraud that was motivated by pure greed . . . based on a callous and evil exploitation of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, the elderly, many of whom were veterans," U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco said at Romano's sentencing in federal court in Central Islip.
Bianco noted that some of the victims were "suffering from dementia" and some had lost their life savings because of Romano.
In addition to the prison sentence, Bianco ordered Romano to forfeit $7 million, and said he would determine how much restitution Romano owed to his victims at a future hearing.
Between 2001 and 2007, Romano's three Long Island companies swindled 1,500 victims out of a total of $40 million, according to federal prosecutors Lara Treinis Gatz and Thomas Sullivan. The victims' average age was 75 and they lived in 50 states, and most were not from Long Island, according to Treinis Gatz and Sullivan.
The scheme used high-pressure tactics to get unsophisticated investors to buy collector-type coins, such as Benjamin Franklin half-dollars, at many times their actual worth as a way to supposedly ensure their financial future or pay for such things as a grandchild's college education.
Romano pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in September 2010.
He had initially been arrested in November 2008 and released on bail on the condition that he no longer engage in telemarketing.
But his bail was revoked in May 2010, and he has been held in jail since then, after prosecutors said he had moved to Florida and began a new coin telemarketing operation.
Before he was sentenced, Romano said of his victims, "I am sorry about your losses and sorry about suffering I caused because of my selfishness."
He asked the judge to impose a sentence of less than the minimum 121/2 years called for under the sentencing guidelines. He said he had reformed while in jail, adding that his three young children would lose their father while he was imprisoned.
Bianco said he had thought of giving Romano as much as the maximum 20 years in prison but did not do so because he had already taken those factors into account.