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March 26, 2010
By Michael LaForgia, The Palm Beach Post

Accused of running a $40 million boiler-room scam on New York's Long Island, Joseph Romano posted bond, headed to Delray Beach and continued preying on elderly victims, federal authorities said Friday.

Romano and a co-conspirator, Russell Barnes, used a slick website, cold calls and high-pressure sales tactics to sell rolls of coins to unsuspecting buyers, according to court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz. Now, Gatz is arguing the duo should be jailed until their cases are resolved.

In Delray Beach, Romano and Barnes kept victims on the hook by promising to line up investors eager to buy the new collections — if only the victims would buy another set of coins, a U.S. postal inspector said in an affidavit filed Wednesday.

It was the same alleged scheme Romano, Barnes and five other men were accused of running in New York between 2001 and 2008, according to a superseding indictment issued in December.

The accused scammers used three companies to bilk people out of tens of millions of dollars, court documents said.

They would dip worn coins in a chemical bath and then pass them off as high-grade. They referred to some elderly victims as "whales," fat targets they could take for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the documents said.

Romano hired attorney Charles Carnesi, who famously represented John Gotti Jr. as that racketeering case wound its way through the legal system. Carnesi didn't respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Charged with mail and wire fraud and money laundering, Romano posted $1 million bond in 2008. Barnes was freed on his own recognizance. Both promised not to work in telemarketing until the cases are resolved.

In February 2009, four months after they first were charged, Romano and Barnes used a front man to start Collectible Coins Inc. in Delray Beach and then set about ripping people off, the postal inspector said.

Working the phones from a boiler room on Northwest 17th Avenue in Delray Beach, Barnes and others cajoled or confused elderly people into buying roll after roll of Benjamin Franklin half-dollar pieces, the inspector said.

Romano, who lived in a $2.4 million house in Ocean Ridge, tried to hide his interest in Collectible Coins Inc. He told the U.S. pretrial services office in New York that he was unemployed, the inspector said.

But federal agents watched him entering and exiting the coin company office in Delray Beach and intercepted an e-mail from the office building's landlord, in which he reminded Romano to pay the rent, the inspector said.

Barnes, who said he was living on Long Island, was arrested there.

Romano was taken into custody and will be shipped back to New York for his next appearance in U.S. District Court. Both could face additional charges in the alleged Delray Beach operation.