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Defense lawyer: Murder plot defendant 'had to act tough'

Joseph Romano, left, and David Mirkovic in a

Joseph Romano, left, and David Mirkovic in a government surveillance photo outside Romano's purported coin boiler room in Delray Beach, Fla. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

The lawyer for Joseph Romano, the Long Island fraudster accused of plotting to kill and behead a Central Islip federal judge and prosecutor, told jurors Thursday that Romano was entrapped by the FBI after boasting about revenge to impress other jail inmates he feared.

"He had to say things like cutting off peoples' heads, even though he didn't intend to do it, in order to survive," defense lawyer Michael Bachrach said during opening statements at Romano's conspiracy trial in Brooklyn federal court. "He had to act tough."

But prosecutor Una Dean portrayed Romano, 50, of Levittown, as a furious man intent on getting back at U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco and prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz for his conviction and 15-year sentence in a $19 million coin fraud case.

"He decided to turn to violence to murder these public servants for simply doing their jobs," she argued. ". . . As far as he was concerned he was above the law. So he sat stewing in his jail cell, trying to decide how he was going to get revenge."

Romano, 50, of Levittown, offered $40,000 in 2012 to an undercover agent who he believed was a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor, and discussed mutilating their bodies, decapitating them and preserving their heads in formaldehyde, prosecutors say.

Authorities were tipped off by a fellow inmate at the Nassau County jail, Gerald Machacek. Romano allegedly recruited a friend, David Mirkovic, to help carry out the plan and make down payments of $22,000 to the purported hit man. Mirkovic has pleaded guilty.

The defense faces a formidable task. Dean said that in addition to testimony about the down payment, agents will testify that Romano admitted the plot after he was arrested. "Joseph Romano confessed that he planned their murders as revenge," she said.

She also promised to play audio and video recordings, with Romano using code words such as "Mr. Softee" for the hit man and detailing plans to dismember the two officials and put Gatz's body in a "35-gallon drum." In one tape played as testimony began, he referred to Bianco as a "scumbag judge."

Bachrach said Romano, a fierce-looking 300-pounder, was in fact terrified in jail, fearing that coin fraud would not make him seem formidable to fellow criminals, and tried to sound "a little crazy, a little nuts" with his revenge talk.

Romano was then encouraged to turn his rants into reality by Machacek, who was cooperating with the government to get a break on gun and robbery charges, and said he would help contact a hit man, the lawyer said.

Under the entrapment defense, someone who is encouraged by a government agent to commit a crime he is not predisposed to commit is entitled to acquittal.

"The more Gerry [Machacek] prods, the nastier Romano gets," Bachrach said. "Meeting a hit man is not something Romano would ever have done without Gerry inducing him to do it."

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