Mafia Veterans Romanello and Celso Face Prison for Brutal Debt Recovery Tactics

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Once known for his unassailable status in the New York Mafia, 86-year-old Anthony “Rom” Romanello, finds himself stepping into prison bars this week. The reputed capo has been sentenced to two years incarceration for pressuring a Manhattan restaurant owner over an outstanding gambling debt. Unapologetically, his lawyer notes Romanello has “no regrets” about physically lashing out at the victim.

The incident in question dates back to 2017 when Romanello decided to lend a forceful helping hand to the aspiring Albanian film star, Luan Bexheti. Bexheti, a supposed associate of the Genovese crime family, was wrestling to recover an $86,000 gambling debt from Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj and his family. Selimaj, who used to be the proud owner of the now-closed Lincoln Square Steak restaurant on Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side, was on the receiving end of Romanello’s hired muscle.

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Romanello’s strong-arm tactics were not implemented alone; he was joined by fellow emissary of enforcers, Joseph Celso, rumored to be a soldier in the Genovese family. The alleged mafiosos utilized “threats and violence” liberally against Selimaj, in their relentless drive to gather the debt. During one of their ominous visits to Selimaj’s restaurant, a surveillance camera fortuitously recorded Romanello punching Selimaj.

The punch was indubitably abrupt and controversial. The incriminating video soon found its way into the digital realm with a speed that matched its virality. The question that lingered was not of its occurrence but its motive.

Jerry McMahon, Romanello’s counsel, ground it into the court’s attention that Selimaj had been a long-standing friend of the accused. The confrontation was a mere drunken squabble that escalated. A matter of personal honor, Romanello was reacting to Selimaj’s provocation, where he defamed cable with a crude remark, labeling him a “washed-up Italian with no balls.”

McMahon, in the run-up to the sentencing, articulated that Romanello harbored no regrets about his impassioned response to Selimaj’s vituperation. His evaluation was “Why should he?” A rhetorical question, rephrased equal parts dramatically and personally. He posed, “What would Jerry McMahon do?” His answer, “Knock him flat out!”

Shuqeri Selimaj offered a stark contrast in his testimony during the trial. He shared his fear of the Mafia’s reprisal, stating that his inability to repay the entire debt owed to Bexheti enraged Romanello, causing him to lash out. The terror instilled by the Mafia was no laughing matter.

The prosecutors presented a vehement argument for a harsher sentence. They conveyed that Romanello’s advancing age should not equate to minimal punishment. They painted a picture of a hardened man, unwilling to change his ways despite several interventions. Romanello, no stranger to the scales of justice, has a 2007 conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice and racketeering conspiracy resting on his shoulders.

Joseph Celso, Romanello’s fellow defendant, awaits his sentence after a conviction for conspiracy extortion. The echoes of a 1993 murder charge of Manuel Mayi, a Queens College student, loom large. He was acquitted after the prosecution’s main witness abruptly departed the country.