An inmate serving time in Gowanda for sex abuse thought he was hiring a hit man to kill the woman he had assaulted.
It turned out the Peekskill man was talking to an undercover state trooper. “I got myself caught up in a conspiracy,” Brendon Berndt, 27, said Thursday as he pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy before Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico.
Berndt said he “foolishly met with someone” earlier this year in the prison about a plot to kill the victim. A fellow inmate had set up the meeting, telling Berndt that it was with someone who could arrange the killing. Instead, the other inmate alerted authorities.
State police then sent an undercover investigator to meet with Berndt under the pretense of arranging the killing.
Berndt conspired to kill the 25-year-old woman he was convicted of sexually assaulting as she was walking on Route 6 in Cortlandt, Westchester County, late on Oct. 29, 2009. He thought killing the victim would improve his chances of winning an appeal of his conviction, officials said.
After meeting with the undercover officer, Berndt sent instructions to his father to send $5,000 to a post office box, as he was instructed to do at the meeting, prosecutor Kristen A. St. Mary told D’Amico. He misled his father about the reason to send the money, saying it was needed to hire a private investigator for help with the appeal, St. Mary said. The father did not send any money.
Berndt, who had been in the Gowanda facility since February 2011, agreed to pay a total of $10,000 to have the victim killed when he met with the undercover officer Jan. 21, 2012, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Berndt was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and aggravated drunken driving in connection with the sex attack and is serving a combined prison term of up to 3½ years after being transferred from Gowanda to a prison in Oneida County.
He could have been released as soon as October 2013, and no later than mid-April 2014, for the 2009 sex crime. Now, as a second-time felony offender, he faces a minimum sentence of 4½ years and a maximum term of 25 years on the murder conspiracy conviction.
D’Amico did not promise Berndt a specific prison sentence for his plea, but the judge indicated he might impose one at the lower end of the sentencing range.