Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Aging Genovese mobster punched NYC steakhouse owner after being called a washed up Italian

An aging reputed Genovese mobster accused of socking a Manhattan steakhouse owner as part of an extortion plot didn’t do it to collect a gambling debt — but because the victim called him a “washed-up Italian” with “no balls,” his lawyer claimed at the start of his trial Wednesday.

Anthony “Rom” Romanello, 86, an alleged capo in the Genovese crime family, was merely defending his honor after restaurateur Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj insulted him — and he “punches like a girl” anyway, defense attorney Jerry McMahon told jurors in Brooklyn federal court.

“He didn’t punch Bruno to collect a gambling debt,” McMahon said during his opening statements. “Bruno told him that he was a washed-up Italian, that he had no balls, that he was nothing.”

“He punched him, that 86-year-old guy sitting there, he punched him because Bruno insulted him to his face.”

The elderly wiseguy and an alleged accomplice, reputed Genovese soldier Joseph Celso, are on trial on two counts of extortion after allegedly being enlisted by a Queens bookie and wannabe actor to collect an $86,000 gambling debt owed by two of Selimaj’s relatives.

Taking the stand later Wednesday, Selimaj described how Romanello paid him a visit at his since-shuttered Lincoln Square Steak on May 11, 2017 — and flew into a rage after Selimaj told him he was only willing to pay the part of the debt owed by his nephew, and not his nephew’s brother-in-law.

“Rom kept saying, ‘I’d like to punch you’ … I said, ‘You have no guts to punch me,'” Selimaj recounted for the jury.

“A few seconds later, he punched me.”

Prosecutors played video of the right-handed jab that connected with Selimaj’s jaw for the jurors during the testimony.

After getting slugged, Selimaj told Romanello there were security cameras in the establishment, prompting the alleged longtime mafioso to hightail it out of there with his crew.

Selimaj filed a police report that night — but he ended up retracting it within 24 hours because his brother had relayed a threatening message from Celso that it would be a bad idea to go through with the complaint, he testified.

In a written statement with the NYPD, Selimaj recanted, claiming Romanello had a “few drinks” during the confrontation and that the two of them had been acquaintances for 30 years.

“So it was a misunderstanding between me and him. I think he didn’t want to do that,” Selimaj wrote.

But on the stand, Selimaj said that the retraction was “not true.”

“I was afraid this Mafia guy was going to hurt me, [hurt] my nephew,” he testified.

During cross-examination by McMahon, jurors were read a transcript of a voicemail that Selimaj left Romanello after getting hit — in which he taunted and swore at the mobster.

“Why don’t you come suck my d–k, you motherf–ker. This is Bruno,” Selimaj allegedly said.

Selimaj told jurors he didn’t remember leaving the message.

McMahon, in his opening statement, warned jurors that prosecutors would attempt to paint Romanello as delivering the hit to Selimaj’s face like 1950s American boxing legend Rocky Marciano — adding, “people who have viewed the video will say my client punches like a girl.”

The encounter took place while Romanello was a weekly guest at Selimaj’s food joint, where the accused wiseguy would spend upward of $1,000 on each dinner, McMahon said.

But Brooklyn federal prosecutor Rebecca Schuman told the jury that Selimaj was aware that getting on his patron’s bad side wouldn’t end well.

“Bruno knew that crossing Romanello could have real consequences — violent consequences,” she said.

The prosecutor described for jurors how Celso, who also faces an obstruction of justice count, allegedly sent a threat to Selimaj to get him to drop the police report, saying “things may get even uglier” if he didn’t comply.

Selimaj caved, retracting the police report and paying off the $6,000 debt of his nephew, and the $80,000 owed by his nephew’s brother-in-law, to apparent Genovese associate and wannabe Albanian film star Luan Bexheti, Schuman said.

Celso’s lawyer, Gerrard Marrone, told the jury his client wasn’t involved in any extortion scheme.

“He didn’t menace anyone, certainly didn’t punch anyone,” Marrone said. “My client is not involved in the drama.”

Selimaj, who was the first witness called by prosecutors, told jurors that he’d gotten a visit in March 2017 from an Irish bookie, Mike Regan, informing him of his relatives’ debts and name-dropping Romanello and Anthony “Tough Tony” Federici.

He took it to mean that Regan “was going to use his muscles against me” if the debt wasn’t settled, Selimaj, the owner of Club A Steakhouse, testified.

Then a few weeks later, Celso, Romanello and others came to the restaurant again and Romanello yelled at Selimaj, demanding the money.

“I was afraid because nobody jokes with the Mafia,” Selimaj testified. “It was no joke.”

“I was hoping they’d pay the debt because if they didn’t pay the debt, they would be killed,” Selimaj said of his nephew and nephew’s relative.

“Rom told me Tony [Federici] said hello and he was going to come visit you,” Selimaj recounted of the thinly veiled threat. 

Romanello has beaten an extortion case before — he was acquitted over a decade ago in the same courthouse where he currently faces trial.

Celso, meanwhile, was acquitted in a murder trial in 1993 after the main witness left the country. 

He was accused in the 1991 killing of Manuel Mayi, 19, a Queens College student from the Dominican Republic.

Mayi was chased for 16 blocks and fatally beaten by a mob of almost a dozen people after they saw him spraying graffiti in Corona.

Bexheti, who once acted in a movie called “Albanian Gangster,” pleaded guilty in the ongoing case on Oct. 4.



Post a Comment