Posted on: December 15, 2023, 01:16h.
Last updated on: December 15, 2023, 01:32h.
An octogenarian alleged New York mobster has been convicted of extortion after shaking down a Manhattan restaurateur for a gambling debt.
Prosecutors claimed Romanello was hired, along with co-defendant Joseph Celso, reputedly a Genovese soldier, to put the frighteners on Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj, owner of the now-defunct Lincoln Square Steak restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
‘Threats and Violence’
Selimaj’s nephew and his nephew’s brother-in-law owed an $86K gambling debt to alleged Mob associate and aspiring Albanian film star Luan Bexheti. Romanello and Celso wanted Selimaj to make good on the debt.
The pair “used threats and violence” against Selimaj in “repeated attempts” attempts to collect the debt, according to prosecutors. On their third visit to the restaurant, Romanello was caught on camera punching Selimaj in the face.
Romanelli’s lawyer, Jerry McMahon, attempted to convince jurors that Selimaj and his client were old acquaintances who had simply got into a drunken disagreement.
He didn’t punch Bruno to collect a gambling debt,” McMahon argued. “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.”
Selimaj spoke to police after the assault but retracted his statement the next day and paid off his relatives’ debts. He testified in court that he did this out of fear.
“I was afraid this Mafia guy was going to hurt me, my nephew,” Selimaj said. “I was afraid because nobody jokes with the Mafia … It was no joke.”
Bexheti pleaded guilty to the same charges in October 2023 and awaits sentencing. Highlights of his acting career to date include providing the voice of “Albanian gangster” in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV before landing a minor role in the 2018 low-budget indie flick “Albanian Gangster.” He also once bombed performing stand-up at the New York Comedy Club.
Celso was convicted Tuesday on a conspiracy extortion charge and faces up to 20 years in prison. In 1993, he was charged with the murder of Manuel Mayi, a Queens College student from the Dominican Republic. He was acquitted after the prosecution’s star witness left the country.
When sentenced in March, Romanello faces a maximum of 40 years in prison.