Federal authorities have tied a man to a plot to kill a witness and a federal agent in connection to a pending sex trafficking case.
Robert Palermo, 29, of Rochester was arrested and charged with witness tampering and threatening to assault and/or murder a federal law enforcement officer in retaliation for performance of his official duties, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.
Federal prosecutors also allege Palermo attempted to kill another person to prevent that person’s testimony.
Palermo, who is in Monroe County Jail on pending federal charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking of a minor, is accused of attempting to obtain a hit man to murder a 15-year-old girl, the alleged sex trafficking victim.
According to the criminal complaint, Palermo made 22 phone calls to his mother from the jail between April 5 and June 11 and spoke during the calls about killing the victim as well as hurting or killing others.
During the calls, prosecutors said, Palermo allegedly gained the cooperation of his mother to help hire a hit man. However, after requesting to meet face-to-face with an undercover Rochester police officer posing as a hit man during a phone call to her home, Palermo’s mother did not follow through, prosecutors said.
“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,” Hochul said in a statement. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of law enforcement officers, both efforts were unsuccessful.”
The 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, and posted the advertisement using Tanck’s computer.
Assistant U.S. Robert A. Marangola is handling the latest case.
According to the criminal complaint, Palermo spoke to multiple people over the telephone and in letters about his plot to have a hit man kill the victim to prevent her from testifying against him.
Palermo allegedly provided the victim’s name, description and directions to an address, as well as the phone number of a person outside of jail for the hit man to contact on his behalf to make that happen.
Feds also alleged that during the investigation, Palermo threatened an investigating FBI agent by stating that Palermo would “beat that guy’s face in” and that the agent would “end up in a (expletive) river.”
Law enforcement officials learned of the plot before any harm came to the victim by monitoring Palermo’s conduct in jail and using an undercover police officer to pose as a hit man.
If Palermo is found guilty, 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.