LOCKPORT – When people are sent to jail, the idea is to stop them from committing more crimes, but Benito L. Gonzalez allegedly used Niagara County Jail and its inmates to plot even more crimes.
Authorities say he not only tried to have his wife and mother-in-law killed, but even plotted to ambush and kill a sheriff’s correction officer after being transported from the jail to County Court.
“He actually made plans to have someone, when he arrived at court, ambush the correction officer, which included killing the officer to escape,” Sheriff James R. Voutour said Wednesday.
It all started April 22 when State Police responded to a 911 call of an attack in progress at the Town of Lockport residence that Gonzalez shared with his wife and young children.
Gonzalez was allegedly holding her at knifepoint and choking her while threatening to commit a murder-suicide. When Trooper Jacob G. Rudnick Jr. arrived, the wife managed to break away from the 33-year-old Gonzalez.
Rudnick arrested Gonzalez, a Dominican Republic citizen living in the United States on a green card, and he was taken to the county jail.
He was later indicted on charges of second-degree kidnapping and strangulation and pleaded not guilty.
But Gonzalez sought revenge and allegedly approached different inmates at the jail seeking someone willing to kill his wife and mother-in-law and kidnap his children.
Gonzalez’s efforts to recruit someone willing to carry out the crimes allegedly continued throughout May in a series of jailhouse phone calls that resulted in a June indictment charging him with six counts of attempted murder and one count of criminal solicitation.
When he pleaded not guilty to those charges, Assistant District Attorney Heather A. Sloma stated in court that Gonzalez made the phone calls despite a sign near the jail phones alerting inmates that calls are monitored.
In August, Gonzalez was allegedly at it again, putting out the word in the jail that he wanted someone on the outside to assist him in an escape that would be staged as he arrived at County Court, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. A jail informant, disturbed by the plan to kill a member of law enforcement, alerted authorities and a third investigation was launched by Sheriff’s Investigators Stephen W. Gaydos and Jonathan E. Andres, the two sources said.
Concern among authorities was increasing for not only family members, but because Gonzalez wanted to kill the correction officer.
So a sting was developed in which Gonzalez met with a visitor to the jail who had been put in contact with him by an inmate.
The visitor, an undercover police officer, portrayed himself as a hit man willing to ambush and kill the correction officer and carry out the kidnapping. The plan was discussed in visits and over the phone, the two sources said.
One of the sources said his repeated use of the phone, which had previously gotten him into trouble, demonstrated just how dangerous Gonzalez was.
Gonzalez’s alleged plan to regain his freedom was set for Wednesday, but instead of leaving the jail for court, he was charged with first-degree attempted murder and second-degree criminal solicitation.
Where did Gonzalez intend to flee?
Authorities declined to discuss further details of the case, saying only that Gonzalez’s plan was elaborate.
Assisting the sheriff’s investigators were U.S. Postal Service criminal investigators and agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Acting District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner declined to discuss details of the case.
Gonzalez is being represented by a court-appointed defense attorney, George V.C. Muscato. Three calls attempting to reach Muscato late Wednesday were unsuccessful.
email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org