- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - A pawn shop owner who enlisted drug addicts to shoplift things he could sell was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison for arranging the theft of a comic book collection from an elderly man who died of a heart attack after burglars broke into his home, hit him and tied him up.

“The remorse I feel will lay upon me like an open, unhealing wound for the rest of my life,” Rico Vendetti, 45, told Judge Richard Arcara in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge.

Prosecutors said Vendetti provided a map and GPS system to help four co-defendants find the Medina home where 78-year-old Homer Marciniak lived alone. After first cutting the telephone line, three men entered and ransacked the home, striking Marciniak in the mouth and binding him with pillowcases before leaving with his comic book collection, worth about $30,000, and other valuables.

Marciniak, who had a heart condition, died of a heart attack hours after the July 5, 2010, attack.

U.S. Attorney William Hochul said there was no doubt the break-in caused Marciniak’s death.

“It was beyond senseless,” Hochul said after the sentencing.

In court, the judge said Vendetti reminded him of “Star Wars” villain Darth Vader, “someone who had no good qualities at all,” who seemed - based on numerous pleas for leniency on his behalf - to live a double life. Vendetti’s attorney submitted several emotional poems and sketches by Vendetti with sentencing documents.

“He’s not Darth Vader, he’s a regular guy,” Vendetti’s attorney Matthew Lembke said.

But Hochul said the length and scope of the burglary-resale scheme that culminated in Marciniak’s death showed Vendetti was a “master criminal” motivated by greed.

For six years, Vendetti paid shoplifters 25 cents on the dollar to steal things like Crest Whitestrips, needlepoint kits, breast pumps, flash drives and KitchenAid mixers from Target, Sears, JoAnn Fabrics and other retailers, which he would then sell online. In all, Vendetti obtained and sold more than $700,000 in merchandise, prosecutors said.

After hearing about Marciniak’s comic book collection, he was determined to have it, authorities said.

“This is a classic case of greed leading to violence,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Holly Huber.

Vendetti pleaded guilty to racketeering in December 2014. Seven co-defendants also have been convicted for their roles and have received prison sentences ranging from about 4 years to 20 years in prison.

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