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Appellate court overturns life sentence of man who tried to get three killed

Benito Lendof-Gonzalez came close to hiring a hit man to kill his wife and mother-in-law – but not close enough to succeeding to justify his attempted-murder conviction, an appellate court has ruled.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court last week invalidated his sentence of 17 years to life in prison and dismissed the attempted-murder charges against the former Town of Lockport man.

The five judges, however, allowed Lendof-Gonzalez's convictions for criminal solicitation to stand for trying to have the women killed and also for a later attempt to have a corrections officer gunned down while transporting Lendof-Gonzalez to and from the Niagara County Courthouse.

Instead of facing life in prison, Lendof-Gonzalez, 36, now must serve only 4 2/3 to 14 years for the criminal solicitation counts.

"The victim and her family feel that the second he gets out, he will try to find her and kill her," Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said Monday.

"Acts of preparation to commit an offense do not constitute an attempt," according to the unanimous ruling, which quoted past Court of Appeals rulings. "Acts of conspiring to commit a crime, or of soliciting another to commit a crime do not per se constitute an attempt to commit the contemplated crime."

Lendof-Gonzalez, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was in the Niagara County Jail after a domestic violence incident with his wife in 2016. He passed notes to a fellow inmate asking him to kill the women. The inmate reported him to authorities and began working as an informant.

In 2017, a Niagara County Court jury convicted Lendof-Gonzalez of attempted murder after hearing tapes of Lendof-Gonzalez's jailhouse phone conversations.

"Our argument was that it came close (to attempted murder) but not close enough," said George V.C. Muscato, who, with co-counsel Amy Taylor, defended Lendof-Gonzalez. The appeal was handled by Lockport attorney Robert M. Graff.

"Law enforcement thwarted this. That's where our frustration lies," Wojtaszek said. "We would have been dealing with a double murder, but law enforcement's action prevented him from getting (convicted of) attempted murder."

As for the notion that Lendof-Gonzalez might try a new murder plot after his release, Muscato said that won't happen.

"He gets deported back to the Dominican," Muscato said.

Wojtaszek isn't so sure, because New York law classifies criminal solicitation as a nonviolent felony.

"Criminal solicitation is a gray area, so we've got to get a firm response on that," said Wojtaszek, who will consult Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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