Judge cites evidence Trinity man evaded FBI

Guy Lucas, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·3 min read

May 5—TRIAD — Evidence indicates that a Trinity man spent nearly three weeks actively dodging the FBI and going to unusual lengths to communicate with friends in ways that could not be traced, a federal judge wrote in explaining why the man must remain in federal custody while awaiting trial on charges in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The attorney for Bradley Stuart Bennett, 41, had argued that the inability of the FBI to find Bennett was simply a result of a lack cellphone service during a move from Texas back to North Carolina.

But in an order filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey wrote that Bennett dropped off social media entirely after the arrest March 23 of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Rose Williams, 31, of Texas, and days later he told an acquaintance he was "laying low" to avoid law enforcement.

Prosecutors say Bennett told that acquaintance that "he could not stay on the phone long because he assumed the FBI was looking for him."

The FBI got a search warrant for Bennett's cellphone data while seeking him, but only 12 of 1,900 reports from his phone had any location data, indicating he was keeping his phone disconnected from cellular networks, such as by using Wi-Fi only, Harvey wrote.

Bennett also apparently made extensive use of Telegram, a phone app allowing encrypted messaging.

"Indeed, multiple individuals informed law enforcement that Defendant would call them just long enough to say the name of the application — 'Telegram' — before hanging up, signaling ... that the individuals should communicate with him through Telegram," Harvey wrote.

Bennett finally turned himself in on April 12 in Charlotte, but that was 12 days after his first communication with law enforcement officials and three days after he told the FBI he would turn himself in, Harvey wrote.

In addition, when he arrived in Charlotte he no longer had his iPhone, which Bennett claimed he had tossed out "somewhere along" Interstate 77 because it was broken.

"The Court finds that his disposal of his phone the evening before he had committed to turn himself in is additional evidence of his elusiveness and undermines the assertion that his self-surrender reflected a change of heart and demonstrated his willingness to comply with the law," Harvey wrote.

In Bennett's favor is that he has "a minimal criminal history" and no prior events of failing to appear in court, Harvey wrote.

But his social media posts after Jan. 6 demonstrate "his apparent continued support for the cause behind the insurrection," he faces a likely sentence of more than three years in prison, and the evidence the government has so far is strong, which "provides a strong incentive for him to flee," Harvey wrote.

Bennett was scheduled to be arraigned on his federal charges on Tuesday.

More than 400 people now face trial in connection with the Capitol riot, which resulted in injuries to more than 100 law enforcement officers, several deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Prosecutors have said they expect about 100 more people to be charged.