An elderly reputed mobster didn’t punch a Manhattan restaurateur because he was shaking him down for a gambling debt.
Anthony “Rom” Romanello, above, is accused of punching Lincoln Square Steak restaurant owner Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj to collect a gambling debt owed by his relatives to a Genovese associate and wannabee film star. (Image: New York Post)
Instead, alleged Genovese capo and octogenarian Anthony “Rom” Romanello slugged Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj because the restaurateur insulted him, according to Romanello’s lawyer. Selimaj was the owner of the now-shuttered Lincoln Square Steak restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Romanelli, 86, and his co-defendant, reputed Genovese soldier Joseph Celso, are on trial in a Brooklyn federal court on two counts of extortion.
Prosecutors claim they were hired by a Queens bookie to collect an $86K gambling debt owed by two of Selimaj’s relatives, and Rom is caught on camera socking the steakhouse proprietor in the face.
‘Punches Like a Girl’
In opening statements last week, Romanelli’s lawyer, Jerry McMahon, attempted to convince jurors that none of this was as it seemed, The New York Post reports.
He said his client was a weekly guest at the steakhouse, and the two old acquaintances 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.
“People who have viewed the video will say my client punches like a girl,” observed McMahon.
Selimaj, however, told jurors he was visited in March 2017 by an Irish bookie named Mike Regan, who informed him that his nephew and his nephew’s brother-in-law owed $80K to a Mob associate. Regan told him he would have to make good on the debt.
Prosecutors believe the associate in question is a wannabe Albanian film star named Luan Bexheti, who has enjoyed bit-part poles in numerous indie flicks, according to IMDB. Ironically, one of Bexheti’s acting jobs was providing the voice of “Albanian gangster” in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV.
Selimaj spoke to police after the alleged assault but retracted his statement 24 hours later and paid off his relatives’ debts, according to prosecutors.
In court last Wednesday, Selimaj said he did this because a family member received a threatening message from Celso.
Celso was charged in 1993 with the murder of Manuel Mayi, a Queens College student from the Dominican Republic, but he was acquitted after the prosecution’s star witness left the country.
“I was afraid this Mafia guy was going to hurt me, my nephew,” Selimaj testified. “I was afraid because nobody jokes with the Mafia … It was no joke.”
The trial continues.
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