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

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Elderly Genovese Captain convicted in NYC extortion case


An 86-year-old reputed capo in the Genovese crime family was convicted of extortion charges by a Brooklyn federal jury Monday after hours of testimony surrounding a punch he landed to the jaw of a steakhouse owner.

The weeklong trial of Anthony “Rom” Romanello included shocking surveillance footage capturing the elderly alleged Mafioso socking restaurateur Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj with a right-handed jab at Selimaj’s since-shuttered eatery Lincoln Square Steak on May 11, 2017.

Prosecutors said the punch stemmed from $86,000 in unpaid failed bets accrued by Selimaj’s nephew, Tony, and another relative — a gambling debt Romanello had been sent to collect from the restauranteur.

“What am I gonna say? Nothing — I really did nothing,” a stunned Romanello insisted outside the courtroom Monday.

Jurors returned with a guilty verdict against Romanello on two counts of extortion after beginning deliberations at around 2:45 p.m. Thursday.

He faces up to 40 years behind bars at his sentencing at a later date prosecutors have said.

Prosecutors argued that both Romanello and co-defendant Joseph Celso, who was convicted of the top count, should be held behind bars until their sentencing hearings — leaving family members and supporters of the reputed mobsters shocked.

“He’s 86 years old!” whispered one court onlooker.

Romanello’s lawyer, Jerry McMahon, had tried to convince jurors that his client only punched Selimaj because he had insulted him.

“He didn’t punch Bruno to collect a gambling debt,” McMahon insisted 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.”

Jurors were shown the 55-second recording during the trial when the accused aging alleged mobster delivered the jab to the restaurateur’s jaw.

In the clip, Romanello can be seen standing next to who Selimaj identified as Mike Regan, an Irish bookie, who allegedly grabbed Selimaj’s jacket threateningly after the punch is thrown.

McMahon has repeatedly downplayed Romanello’s haymaker throughout the trial, often saying that the old reputed wiseguy “punches like a girl” and that he had simply been the victim of Selimaj’s bullying antics.

“If he wasn’t Italian, there would be no issue,” McMahon said during closing arguments Thursday. “But because an Italian steps in, it’s Mafia.”

McMahon also proclaimed that Romanello’s right hook is “the most investigated one-punch in the history of one-punches.”

Following the verdict Monday, McMahon said Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Eric Komitee — whom he sparred with over evidence throughout the trial — had made it “virtually impossible” to defend Romanello by allowing the jury to hear that his client was Italian and in the Mafia.

“That should have never been allowed. That’s an invitation,” he said. “The jury is going to hear, ‘He’s Italian. He’s in the Mafia. He’s trying to collect a gambling debt. Oh, of course, it’s extortion!’ Allowing that evidence is a crucial thing.”

Prosecutors had argued that Romanello paid Selimaj three visits, including the day of the attack, threatening him so he would pay off his relatives’ debt.

Selimaj testified that on the night of the punch, he told the alleged mobster that he would only be willing to pay the part of the debt owed by his nephew — a $6,000 tab — and added he wouldn’t pay his nephew’s brother-in-law’s $80,000.

The restaurateur said an enraged Romanello kept telling him that he would “like to punch [me]” — before he was socked at his restaurant in front of staff and patrons.

Selimaj filed a police report that night – but he ended up retracting it within 24 hours after his brother relayed an allegedly veiled threatening message from Celso, a reputed Genovese soldier, saying that it would be a bad idea to go through with the complaint, the former eatery owner testified.

In a later written statement with the NYPD, Selimaj claimed Romanello had a “few drinks” and that the fight between the pair — who had been acquaintances for 30 years — had been a “misunderstanding between me and him.”

But Selimaj ended up testifying that what he wrote in the statement was “not true” — and that he only told cops that because he was afraid of the consequences from the alleged Queens mobster.

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

His brother, Shemsi “Nino” Selimaj, also a restaurateur who appeared as himself in the 2019 movie “Uncut Gems” with Adam Sandler, testified later in the trial that he interpreted Celso’s threats to be real warnings.

Shemsi said Celso told him that if Romanello was arrested, “somebody is going to pay the price,” he testified.

Brooklyn federal prosecutor Rebecca Schuman described to the jury how Celso — who also faced an obstruction of justice count — allegedly sent the threat to Selimaj to get the police report dropped.

He eventually got Selimaj to fork over the $6,000 debt of his nephew and the remaining $80,000, which was sent to alleged Genovese associate and wannabe Albanian film star Luan Bexheti, prosecutors said.

Celso was convicted Monday of one of the extortion counts, but found not guilty of the second and of the obstruction charge.

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

Joseph Marrone, Celso’s lawyer, has maintained that Celso didn’t have a part in the extortion scheme — and even questioned whether the two alleged Genovese associates were even in the Mafia because had they been, the restaurant would have been “torn up” if it was the real Mafia.

“If the real Mafia was there, there wouldn’t have given a sh-t about a camera being there,” Marrone said in his closing arguments.

McMahon said that he plans to appeal Romanello’s conviction because he “didn’t get a fair trial.”

The judge will decide whether to remand the alleged wiseguy pair into custody at a hearing Tuesday morning.



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