New York Daily News


Insult, not money, made me punch restaurate­ur, says alleged mobster


An aging, red meat-eating reputed mafioso says he didn’t punch a Manhattan steakhouse owner in the face to extort him — he did it because the man called him washed up.

Anthony “Rom” Romanello, 86, faces a federal trial for punching Shuqeri “Bruno” Selimaj, the owner of the swanky Lincoln Square Steak restaurant on the Upper West Side, because the restaurate­ur’s relatives owed an $86,000 gambling debt.

But Romanello’s lawyer told a Brooklyn Federal Court jury Wednesday that the punch was personal, not Mafia business.

“Bruno told him that he was a washedup Italian, that he had no balls, that he was nothing,” defense lawyer Gerald McMahon said Wednesday. “He didn’t punch him to collect a gambling debt. He punched him — that 86-year-old guy sitting there — he punched him because Bruno insulted him to his face.”

He also suggested that his 5-foot-10 client was no match for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Selimaj.

Romanello, a reputed Genovese crime family capo, and another alleged mobster, Joseph Celso, are accused of using their

Mafia reputation to muscle Selimaj into paying his kin’s sports-betting debt in 2017.

Their extortion culminated in a May 11, 2017, confrontat­ion in the now-closed Lincoln Square Steak, where, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Schuman, “Romanello punched him in the face, while Celso and others swarmed in and surrounded him.”

Taking the stand Wednesday, Selimaj said that Mafia figures would regularly dine in an upstairs piano room at his other restaurant, Club A Steakhouse in Midtown, which he opened in 1978. The late John Gotti dined there twice, he said.

“I had mixed clientele — businesspe­ople, tourists, neighbors, Mafia people,” he said. Romanello was a regular customer at his restaurant­s for decades, he added.

Trouble started for Selimaj around March 2017, when Michael Regan, who would later be accused of running an illegal sports betting ring in Queens, paid him a visit at Lincoln Square Steak to tell him that his nephew Toni owed more than $80,000, Selimaj testified.

Regan name-dropped Romanello and another mobster, “Tough Tony” — the nickname of reputed Genovese capo Anthony Federici, who died in November 2022. “I interprete­d that he was going to use muscles against me,” Selimaj said.

Selimaj’s nephew actually owed $6,000 to Luan Bexheti, an Albanian actor and part-time bookie who was part of Regan’s alleged operation, and the nephew’s brother-in-law Eddie owed $80,000, according to prosecutor­s. Bexheti took a plea deal last month.

Over the next two months, the restaurant owner received three visits from Romanello, sometimes accompanie­d by others including Regan. Romanello shouted at him, making demands like, “I don’t care who owes it. I want all my money!” Selimaj said.

On the third visit, Romanello screamed at him again in a private room at the steakhouse, and when Selimaj told the aging wiseguy that he’d pay for his nephew’s $6,000, but not the other $80,000, Romanello allegedly blew up.

He kept screaming as they walked to the bar, with Romanello saying, “I would like to punch you! I would like to punch you!” Selimaj said.

“‘You have no guts to punch me,’ I tell him that,” Selimaj recounted. “A few seconds later, he punched me.”

A member of Romanello’s party then shoved Selimaj, and when he pointed out the security cameras, Romanello said, “Let’s get out of here,” the restaurant owner recounted.

He filed a police report, but the next day, his brother persuaded him to withdraw the complaint, warning him, “It would be ugly,” he recalled.

“I was afraid if he can punch me in the middle of the day in my restaurant, what could they do at night, when nobody watches?” he said.

Soon after, Selimaj paid his nephew’s debt and the brother-in-law’s kin made sure the $80,000 was covered, as well, he said.

In his opening argument, McMahon said that Romanello got involved only because of his longstandi­ng relationsh­ip with Regan and with members of the Albanian community, and because of his familiarit­y with Selimaj through his restaurant­s.

He tried to paint Selimaj as a tough guy and suggested that the restaurant owner tried to embarrass Romanello by calling him washed up.

After the punch, McMahon said, Selimaj left profane voice mails on Romanello’s phone, telling him, “Come over here, You have no balls, you motherf----r,” and “This is Bruno. Why don’t you s--k my d--k? Come and s--k my d--k, you piece of s--t.”

Selimaj said he couldn’t remember leaving the messages, which drew a chuckle from Romanello at the defense table.

 ?? ??
 ?? JESSE WARD FOR NYDN ?? Lawyer for Anthony “Rom” Romanello (right) told a Brooklyn jury Wednesday that his client punched the owner of a swanky Upper West Side eatery (above) because the restaurate­ur called him “a washed-up Italian.”
JESSE WARD FOR NYDN Lawyer for Anthony “Rom” Romanello (right) told a Brooklyn jury Wednesday that his client punched the owner of a swanky Upper West Side eatery (above) because the restaurate­ur called him “a washed-up Italian.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States