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Local official placed under 24-hour watch because of concerns about Richard Matt

At least one local official of the criminal justice system has been placed under 24-hour police protection because of security concerns about Richard W. Matt, the convicted killer from the City of Tonawanda who escaped from a maximum security prison.

The official had extensive dealings with Matt in the past through the criminal justice system, a knowledgeable government source told The Buffalo News.

That individual is “under 24-hour, 7-day-a-week police protection and surveillance,” the source said. “Around the clock ... at work and in the home.”

Matt, 48, escaped June 6 from the state’s Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, a small town roughly 362 miles northeast of Buffalo. Despite intense search efforts, police admitted Wednesday that they do not know the destination of Matt and David Sweat, another convicted killer who escaped with him.

Is there any chance that Matt would be headed to Western New York, where he killed a man and had other run-ins with police for most of his life?

Beau Duffy, spokesman for the State Police, said that as the search continues, investigators have not ruled out any possibilities regarding where Matt and Sweat might be hiding. But another knowledgeable police source said police are on high alert for the possibility that Matt could return to Western New York.

There have been no sightings of Matt in the region since his escape, and police have received no information indicating he is headed here, the source said. But officials familiar with Matt noted that he is a dangerous, unpredictable criminal who has threatened at least two police officers in the past.

One former lawman who is concerned about Matt’s whereabouts is Gabe DiBernardo, 78, retired chief of detectives with the North Tonawanda Police. DiBernardo led the murder investigation that resulted in a 2007 murder conviction and lengthy prison term for Matt. Matt was convicted of kidnapping, torturing, killing and dismembering William Rickerson, 76, who ran a meat and cheese distribution business where Matt had worked.

“Am I concerned? Have I taken precautions? Of course I have. My detectives who worked with me on the case have, too,” DiBernardo said. “Anyone who had problems with this man, or testified against this man, or arrested this man should take precautions. Be extra cautious ... He’s a violent, violent man. Anything is possible with Richard Matt.”

Retired City of Tonawanda investigator David F. Bentley said Matt sent him a threatening letter after Bentley assisted North Tonawanda police with the murder probe.

In an interview with the “Inside Edition” television show last week, Bentley said Matt sent him the letter after he was convicted of murdering Rickerson.

“I know what you did and I’m not going to forget it,” Matt wrote, Bentley said.

Bentley said, he is keeping himself armed and protected should Matt come after him. “I am always armed, even in my house,” Bentley told a TV interviewer. “I am armed at all times. I just won’t take the chance of being taken by surprise.”

A News reporter Wednesday visited the Angola neighborhood where a son of Matt’s lives with his mother.Two neighbors said they are concerned about the possibility of Matt visiting their neighborhood, but one said, “We figure he wants to get far away from anyone who knows him.”

Meanwhile, the State Police on Wednesday released enhanced “progression photos” of what Matt and Sweat might look like after 10 days on the run. The chief difference in the enhanced photos from those disseminated just after the June 2 escape seems to be more facial hair on both men. Sweat may be wearing a full beard now, instead of a goatee and Matt’s beard may have grown in thicker with more whiteness, the picture shows.

Operations inside the Clinton Correctional Facility are also changing, according to a report in the Albany Times-Union. The report stated that the “honor block,” which rewarded prisoners with greater freedom inside the prison, has been suspended. Matt and Sweat were part of the honor block prior to their escape.

State Police ask that anyone who sees Matt or Sweat, or learns anything about their whereabouts, call 911, contact their local law enforcement agency, or call State Police at (518) 897-2000 or 1-800-GIVETIP. Police said tips can also be emailed to crimetip@troopers.ny.gov.

Troopers said Matt is white, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 210 pounds, with black hair and hazel eyes. He has a tattoo on his back reading “Mexico Forever,” a heart tattoo on his chest and left shoulder, and a Marine Corps insignia on his right shoulder.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com and dherbeck@buffnews.com