FBI serves warrants at home of Omaha Police officer, Councilman Palermo
Omaha mayor: City suspending all its funding to PACE, an organization with close ties to Omaha LPOA
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - FBI Omaha agents served federal search warrants Tuesday morning at the homes of an Omaha city councilman and two city police officers.
The FBI served warrants Councilman Vinny Palermo’s south Omaha home as well as the homes of Officers Johnny Palermo, who is not related to the councilman.
Because it’s an ongoing investigation, the FBI isn’t saying why they were there.
6 News also learned federal agents also served search warrants Tuesday at the offices of Police Athletics for Community Engagement, a nonprofit known as PACE that’s dedicated to helping at-risk children learn about the importance of education through sports like soccer, baseball, and flag football.
The two Omaha Police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave as a result of the investigation, OPD Lt. Neal Bonacci said in an email to 6 News. They will also be subject to an internal investigation.
Both officers have strong connections to the Omaha Latino Peace Officers Association and PACE. Officer Johnny Palermo is the current president of the Omaha LPOA and Officer Daniel Torres is the past president, according to its website. The organization also started PACE in 2005.
OPD Chief Todd Schmaderer expressed concern at the developments and thanked federal authorities for their work on the case.
“I am concerned that PACE may have been used for criminal activity. Heightening my concern is the possibility that a few current and former Omaha Police officers may be involved. Criminal impropriety and conduct unbecoming will not be tolerated. I want to thank the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for their work. OPD will continue to assist at the direction of the FBI.”
Monday night, 6 News heard from the organization’s tax attorney, Howard Kaplan, who said the Latino Peace Officers Association and PACE are “fully cooperating with a federal investigation.”
Omaha LPOA’s vice president Greg Gonzalez, retired Omaha Police Deputy Chief, says the bookkeeper turned financial records over to the Internal Revenue Service.
While investigators are staying silent on the reasons for the search warrants, 6 News knows that in order to get one, agents would have had to convince a judge they suspect some sort of criminal activity and that a search would bring invaluable evidence for the case.
A few OPD detectives have been assisting the FBI with its investigation, Bonacci said.
“The confidentiality of the federal investigation was of paramount importance and only a few OPD commanders are aware of said investigation,” he said in the email.
6 News has not yet received a response or acknowledgment of a recent text sent to Councilman Palermo asking for comment.
Mayor Jean Stothert issued a statement saying she was “shocked and beyond disappointment” at the developments involving Palermo, the officers, and the PACE organization. Noting that PACE is not officially affiliated with the city, the mayor said the city was suspending all its financial support for the organization. The city budgeted $100,000 in Community Service funds to PACE for 2022 and 2023.
“I have been advised of the FBI investigation into the PACE organization (Police Athletics for Community Engagement) and potential criminal action being pursued by the U.S. Department of Justice.
I am shocked and beyond disappointed that the PACE organization, created to offer opportunities and mentoring to young people, is under federal investigation.
Regarding Councilmember Palermo, and the Omaha Police Officers placed on administrative leave, we hold our public officials to a high standard.
Until the conclusion of the investigation, all city financial support to PACE is suspended. PACE is a non-profit organization and is not affiliated with the City of Omaha.
The Omaha Police Department believes strongly in community engagement. Despite the alleged criminal activities of a few former and current officers, the citizens of Omaha can be confident in the leadership of Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, his commitment to excellence, and our expectation that officers will be held accountable when they violate the public trust.”
As a footnote to the story, Councilman Palermo is still on federal probation after pleading guilty in 2019 for failing to file his tax returns in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Correction: A previous version of this story reported that Officer Daniel Torres’ home had been searched by police. 6 News regrets the error.
Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.
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