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Former inmate accused of stalking, threatening corrections officer

Thomas Bencivenga arrested on warrant charging him with stalking, intimidation

Columbia County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Thomas Cowen Bencivenga, who was released from Columbia Correctional Institution in January 2017.

LAKE CITY, Fla. – A former Florida Department of Corrections inmate was arrested Wednesday on a warrant detailing allegations of stalking and threatening to kill a female corrections officer who works at the Columbia Correctional Institution.

Thomas Cowen Bencivenga, 29, is charged with aggravated stalking and intimidation.

According to the seven-page warrant, the threats started in January 2017 when Bencivenga was released from CCI after serving four years for armed burglary. Statements in the warrant also suggest Bencivenga was plotting to kill the officer. 

"(Inmates) don't get to see females that much and they think they can just do whatever they want to," Willie Busby, a retired corrections officer, told News4Jax on Thursday. 

In January 2017, according to the warrant, a Columbia County deputy received a call from the corrections officer who said she was being harassed by a former inmate whom she identified as Bencivenga. She told the deputy that Bencivenga had been calling her at work and professing his love for her, although she was not interested. 

The deputy noted in his report that when Bencivenga was incarcerated at CCI, he had threatened to stab and kill the female officer, which is why she did not want him to contact her. 

About three months later, the warrant shows, Bencivenga began messaging the corrections officer, stating her full name, address and information about her family members. Detectives called the number that the text message originated from, but no one answered.

"Inmates have 365, 24/7 to figure you out," said Richard Pari, a former federal corrections officers.

Pari said one example of that would be an inmate honing in on personal conversations between prison staff.

“Inmates are fishing for information, as small as it may be," Pari said. "If an inmate walks by a female staff member and says, 'You smell pretty today.' If they don’t say anything, guess what? They got you. Then it gets progressively worse.”

While investigating the matter, detectives came across a CCI incident report that was filed in November 2015 after CCI staff received an anonymous letter about the corrections officer.

The warrant states that the letter speaks of the female corrections officer as a reverse racist who performed sex acts on black men. The letter also stated that Bencivenga was in a relationship with the officer. The allegations in the letter were investigated by the attorney general’s office. The investigation concluded that the allegations were false and that Bencivenga was infatuated with the officer.

"Inmates have nothing to lose," Pari said. "They will turn on a staff member on a dime.”

According to the warrant, Bencivenga wrote letters to his sister in December 2016 and in January and March 2017 in which he made statements about harming or killing the officer. 

In a Jan. 25, 2017, letter, Bencivenga reportedly wrote, “She called the police. I swear if I have to wait five years, I will kill her.” The letter goes on to say, “I’ll gouge her eyeballs out. I’ll waste the f****** b****. (Her name), you will die.”

The warrants states that, in a Jan. 28, 2017, letter, Bencivenga wrote about his revenge plans being foiled and how he was going to use a semi-automatic rifle to wreak havoc on the Department of Corrections. 

The warrant details other letters that talked about harming the female corrections officer.

According to the warrant, in April 2017, the state Department of Corrections Facebook page started receiving disturbing messages from Bencivenga. The warrant states that in the Facebook messages, Bencivenga declared war on the FDOC and the female corrections officer. 

In May 2017, the warrant states the officer’s roommate began to get threatening text messages. A restraining order against Bencivenga had been granted, but not served. Deputies said, at the time, Bencivenga was not in Florida. He was finally served the injunction after he was tracked down in Asheville, North Carolina.  

While the case was still under investigation, Columbia County detectives received a call from a detective in Ocala who said he was working on a case involving Bencivenga. According to the warrant, both cases involved threats against law enforcement. 

The warrant states that when detectives finally made contact with Bencivenga, he admitted to the threats but said he had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

According to the warrant, more threats against law enforcement were made, including a threat in March to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, referencing the actions of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Late Wednesday evening, Bencivenga was booked into the Columbia County jail on the two felony charges. His bond was set at $60,000.


About the Author:

Erik Avanier

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.