By Angie Francalancia
Federal authorities have seized the Ocean Ridge home and another home owned by Joseph Romano, who has been accused of resurrecting a $40 million boiler room scam he originated on Long Island with his Delray Beach-based Collectible Coins Inc. while free on bail.
Romano and a co-conspirator, Russell Barnes, were taken by U.S. Marshals to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn in March to await trial, scheduled for Sept. 27, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
By the time authorities tracked Romano and Barnes to South Florida, they already had scammed at least 10 victims out of about $600,000 from the Delray Beach operation, according to court documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz. The pair used cold calls and high-pressure sales to sell rolls of coins to buyers, including many elderly victims, according to the court documents.
An answering service for Collectible Coins Inc. at 1300 NW 17th Ave. in Delray Beach said the office was closed “because the guys are at a training conference until April 23 at the latest.”
Despite Romano and Barnes’ incarceration, Collectible Coins was still in operation in March, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The defendants would dip used or worn coins in a chemical bath, and then pass them off as high-grade collectibles, the documents said. In fact, the coins were worth much less than the callers claimed.
Romano bought his two-story oceanfront home at 6011 N. Ocean Blvd. in 2004 for $2.9 million. The 7,029 square-foot home had a $50,632 tax bill in 2009. Romano had run into trouble with Ocean Ridge’s code enforcement board in August 2009, when he was cited for failing to have a fence around his pool. A month later he was assessed $260 in fines and a special magistrate agreed to allow the town to start assessing $100-a-day fines, noting that other code violations existed as well.
He also had bought a five-bedroom two-bath home in 2004 at 7084 Via Leonardo in Isola Bella, off Hypoluxo Road, west of Florida’s Turnpike. Federal officials seized that $431,000 property as well.
Charged with conspiracy to commit mail/wire fraud and money laundering, the defendants had three New York companies using the same coin sale methods since 2001. Romano was released on $1 million bail while Barnes was released on his own recognizance. Four months after they first were charged, Romano and Barnes used another man to start Collectible Coins Inc. in Delray Beach, according to the postal inspector. Salesmen cajoled, pressured or confused elderly people into buying rolls of Benjamin Franklin half-dollar coins under the guise that investors would be willing to buy them, the inspector said.
South Florida victims identified only as John Does were seniors as old as 91. In addition to the 10 identified from the Delray Beach operation, federal prosecutors have identified 100 victims. Romano and Barnes could face additional charges connected with the Delray Beach operation.