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Convict charged in plot to sever heads of judge, prosecutor

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man convicted of fraud has been charged with seeking to hire a hit man to murder a New York federal judge and prosecutor, then save their heads in formaldehyde as "souvenirs," a complaint unsealed on Tuesday in Brooklyn showed.

Joseph Romano, 49, tried to pay two undercover officials posing as hired killers $40,000 to murder the judge who presided over his 2009 criminal case and the assistant U.S. attorney who led the prosecution, the complaint said.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman declined to name the targets of the alleged threats, but court records identify the presiding judge in Romano's case as U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco and the prosecutors as assistant U.S. attorneys Diane Leonardo-Beckmann, Lara Gatz and Thomas Sullivan. Bianco declined to comment.

Dejvid Mirkovic, 38, a former business associate of Romano, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for running a boiler-room operation - a place where cold callers use high-pressure tactics to sell worthless or overpriced investments - also was charged in the alleged plot. Both men face life in prison if convicted.

Romano was one of five defendants charged in 2009 with running a boiler room involving the sale of valuable coins. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February.

After his sentencing, Romano, who was incarcerated at the Nassau County Correctional Center in New York state, allegedly told a confidential informant that he wanted to take out a hit on the judge and prosecutor who had handled his case, the complaint said.

The informant gave the plan to federal authorities, who sent an undercover officer posing as a hit man to meet with Romano at the New York jail where he was being held, the complaint said. At first, Romano asked the undercover officer to assault an unidentified man as a test, according to the complaint.

When the undercover officer returned with staged evidence of an assault, Romano directed Mirkovic to give the officer the green light to kill the judge and prosecutor, the complaint said. Mirkovic offered the officer a $20,000 down payment and said that Romano had requested the victims' heads be preserved in formaldehyde as "souvenirs," the complaint said.

Prosecutors said that Mirkovic flew to Florida October 2 to meet with the undercover officer and finalize the arrangements. He was arrested on Tuesday, and appeared before a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach.

"Romano thought he was buying revenge," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. "Instead, he brought the full force of the law, along with a possible life sentence."

A lawyer for Mirkovic, Jack Goldberger, said his client would voluntarily return to New York to face the charges.

"When the dust settles, it will be clear that Mr. Mirkovic was tricked into participating in this, and he's not guilty of the crime," Goldberger said.

A lawyer for Romano wasn't immediately available for comment.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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