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Judge who presided over MS-13 gang cases confirmed by U.S. Senate for federal appeals court

Judge Joseph F. Bianco.

Judge Joseph F. Bianco. Credit: New York Law Journal

A federal judge who has presided over high-profile trials of accused MS-13 gang members on Long Island — but who failed to win the support of New York’s two U.S. senators — has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Votes for Joseph Bianco, who works out of the federal court in Central Islip, fell largely along partisan lines, with senators voting 54-42. And Bianco secured the confirmation without backing from Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the state's two Democrat senators.

The Second Circuit covers Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

Bianco has presided over cases involving MS-13 since 2011, including a complex case stemming from the indictment of two dozen alleged members on 73 counts of murder, attempted murder, racketeering and other charges. He is currently  presiding in Central Islip on a case of an accused MS-13 gang member charged in the killing of a rival gang member. He could not be reached for comment.

Among his cases are those involving allegations that MS-13 carried out the September 2016 killings of Brentwood High School teenagers Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, and the hacking deaths of four young men in a Central Islip park in April 2017.

Bianco himself was the target of a murder plot in connection with the case of Levittown coin dealer Joseph Romano, who was convicted of conspiring to hire two hit men to decapitate the judge and a prosecutor. Prosecutors said Bianco was targeted because, in February 2012, he had sentenced Romano to 15 years in a $19 million coin fraud case.

In April 2014, Romano was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in the murder-for-hire plot.

Gillibrand, in a tweet, called him a far-right-wing judicial nominee, adding: “Moving forward on these nominees without the support of both home-state Senators is unacceptable and violates longstanding tradition. As long as Senate Republicans intend to preside over a broken confirmation process, I plan to oppose these — and all — Circuit Court nominations.”

Schumer, who in 2005 supported Bianco's nomination by President George W. Bush for the U.S. District Court, declined to comment when President Donald Trump nominated him for the appeals court in October 2018. Schumer could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

While Bianco has some critics, others praise him for his fairness and legal acumen.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in the Eastern District, people in the courthouse, prosecutors, even defense attorneys — they all tell me that Judge Bianco is first class,” said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). “He’s just terrific . . . He’s a great choice.”

Bianco, appointed by Bush to the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York and, took a seat on the bench in January 2006.

A 1988 Georgetown and 1991 Columbia Law School graduate, Bianco served from 1994 to 2003 as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, rising to the posts of deputy chief and chief of the organized crime and terrorism unit, according to his online profile on the federal courts website.

He went into private practice for Debevoise & Plimpton in its Litigation Department from 2003 to 2004, the profile said, adding that Bianco returned to the Justice Department and served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division in Washington, overseeing the Counterterrorism Section, the Fraud Section, the Appellate Section, and the Capital Case Unit.

He worked there until his appointment to the bench in January 2006.

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