September 03, 2019 07:37 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC)- The last of four local men who admitted to a plot to attack a Muslim compound in the southern tier was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison plus five years of probation.
Vincent Vetromile, 20 had pleaded guilty to first degree attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism for the plot against Islamberg, near Binghamton.
During sentencing, Monroe County Judge Sam Valleriani made it clear he regarded this crime as especially destructive.
“It was a threat to everyone in our free and democratic society,” he said, while noting members of the Islamberg community who were in court, as they had been for most of the legal proceedings against Vetromile and his fellow defendants.
“It had caused them to fathom fears that they may never have thought about in the past,” he said. “And that is abjectly wrong in a free and democratic society. It threatens the American way of life.”
Vetromile, Brian Colaneri, Andrew Crysel and Nicholas Phielshifter all pleaded guilty in connection with a plot to attack Islamberg with guns and homemade bombs.
The plot was discovered in January after a classmate alerted officials. Greece police alerted state police and the FBI.
“We initially started investigating this as a potential school shooter threat,” said Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan. “Through investigation, we found that it was far more elaborate than that. It was actually this threat to Islamberg.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed to the prison time beforehand but, before sentencing, Vetromile’s lawyer added a special appeal for understanding saying that the teenagers had imagined themselves doing something good and that the crime erupted from a misunderstanding.
“It was never to attack people that were perceived as innocents,” said attorney Stephen Sercu.
“There was a mistaken perception by my client, and the others, that the location that has been detailed in this matter [Islamberg] was a safe haven for terrorists. Misperception, no doubt about it.”
“Whether or not that’s true, I guess, I don’t know,” said prosecutor Matt Schwartz, Monroe County’s Assistant District Attorney. “That appears to be his excuse if you will for the behavior that he engaged in.”
“Obviously that’s pretty warped, but in their head, they were doing something that was good,” said Phelan.
Phelan said the investigation into the plot found extensive information in conversations on the messaging app Discord, through which the four admitted conspirators communicated.
"This was really a treasure trove of information,” he said.
“Specific details about compiling weapons, different types of weapons, who has what kind of weapons, who has money for gas, who has a vehicle, a timeframe for when.”
In those online chats, and in questioning by police, Phelan explained the teenagers did indeed reveal a belief that they would be fighting terrorists.
“Through the conversation, I think they felt there was terrorist activity at that location,” Phelan says.
“But clearly there’s no evidence of that. And clearly, if they attacked that community, they would have hurt innocent women, children, and men.”
While the plot was thwarted, Schwartz said it nevertheless did terrorize innocent members of the community it targeted, beyond what might be evident in the charges.
“Somebody might look at that and say ‘oh, he just tried to get his hands on an explosive device.’ Or something like that, and when you hear that or read that in and of itself, it doesn’t give off or doesn’t convey the significance that this crime has had,” said Schwartz.
Among Vetromile’s codefendants, Colaneri and Crysel were sentenced to four to 12 years. Phileshifter, 16 at the time, was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years of probation.
As part of his sentence, Vetromile was also required to sign an order of protection, effectively mandating that he have no contact with anyone associated with Islamberg until 2034.
Created: September 03, 2019 07:37 PM
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