Rochester man charged in plot to murder witness in sex trafficking case
ROCHESTER, N.Y.—U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Robert Palermo, 29, of Rochester, N.Y., was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with witness tampering by attempting to kill another person to prevent that person’s testimony in an official proceeding, and threatening to assault and/or murder a Federal law enforcement officer in retaliation for performance of his official duties. The witness tampering charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Robert A. Marangola, who is handling the case, stated that Palermo, who is in jail on pending federal charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking of a minor, attempted to obtain a hit man to murder the 15 year-old female sex trafficking victim. According to the complaint, over the telephone and in letters, the defendant spoke to multiple individuals about his plot to have a hit man murder the victim in order to prevent her from testifying against him. To bring the murder plot to fruition, Palermo provided the victim’s name, description and directions to an address as well as the phone number for a person outside of jail for the hit man to contact on behalf of Palermo. Law enforcement learned of the plot before any harm came to the victim.
Law enforcement officers pursued the investigation by monitoring Palermo’s conduct in jail and utilizing an undercover police officer to pose as a hit man. During the investigation, the defendant threatened a particular investigating FBI agent by stating that Palermo would “beat that guy’s face in” and that the agent would “end up in a f__king river.”
The underlying sex trafficking case, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiffany H. Lee, alleges that Palermo and co-defendant Daniel Tanck, knowing the victim was then 14 years old, placed an ad on Backpage.com for her to engage in prostitution activities, took pictures of her for the Backpage.com ad at their residence on Emerson Street in the City of Rochester, and posted the advertisement using Tanck’s computer.
“The allegations in this case are especially egregious insofar as they accuse the defendant of attempting to victimize a young victim not once, but twice,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of law enforcement officers, both efforts were unsuccessful.”
The criminal complaint is the culmination of an investigation on the part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cyber Crimes Task Force, which includes the Rochester Police Department, under the direction of Chief James Sheppard, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, under the direction of Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn, and Special Agents of the FBI, under the direction of Brian P. Boetig, Special Agent in Charge, and the Monroe County District Attorney's Office under the direction of Sandra Doorley.The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.