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Ringleader gets 20 years for theft that claimed comic book owner’s life

Homer Marciniak cherished his collection of old comic books.

Even at age 78, the retired janitor from Medina relished the Batman, Superman and Flash stories he had begun collecting as a young boy.

They were also rare and valuable, appraised at about $30,000. Ultimately, that’s what cost Marciniak his life.

The ringleader behind the 2010 robbery that targeted Marciniak’s comic book collection and led to his death was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison.

“Mr. Marciniak died because of this defendant,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott S. Allen. “He was the genesis of the entire criminal enterprise.”

Rico J. Vendetti, a Rochester restaurant and tavern owner, admitted planning the home invasion in Medina that resulted in Marciniak’s death six years ago. Viewed as the ringleader from the outset, he pleaded guilty in late 2014 to a non-murder charge of racketeering.

Marciniak lived alone but was widely known and well liked in Medina. Friends say his classic comic book collection, some of it dating back to the 1930s, was his “pride and joy.”

But Vendetti, 45, also knew about the collection. With the help of seven others, he organized a robbery of Marciniak’s home in Medina, a rural community of about 6,000 people.

“I can’t believe I took part in some of this conduct,” Vendetti told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. “To know I had any part in that brings shame to me, sorrow to me and pain to me.”

Authorities say the thieves Vendetti hired cut telephone wires to the house and, once inside, found themselves face to face with Marciniak. They proceeded to hit and threaten him and eventually tied him up.

From the start, prosecutors said medical evidence would show that Marciniak died because of the stress and trauma brought on by the home invasion.

“Once we had the scientific or forensic conclusions, there was no doubt murder charges should be brought,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.

Investigators say Vendetti’s interest in the rare comic books was rooted in an eBay scam that he ran for several years.

They say he hired “professional boosters” who stole $665,000 in goods from dozens of stores and other locations across the region, and then sold them to Vendetti for 25 cents on the dollar.

“This investigation was a classic example of a case of when greed turns to violence,” said Holly L. Hubert, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo.

Hubert said it’s unfortunate but not uncommon for criminals involved in non-violent conduct to suddenly find themselves resorting to violence.

Donald Griffin, a co-defendant in the case, also was sentenced this week. Arcara gave Griffin, the robber who admitted striking Marciniak, 20 years in prison.

Six other defendants also have taken guilty pleas.