Man accused of plotting murder with U.S. sailor arrested in Philippines

An undated photograph of John Bench, taken from an anonymous MySpace profile.

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 4, 2010

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Filipino accused of plotting with a U.S. Navy command master chief to kill the sailor’s family was arrested Tuesday in the Philippines in connection with a related killing, the Philippine National Police said.

Dimple Santos, 27, was being held Tuesday night in Antipolo City on suspicion of murder in the shooting death of a Filipino taxi driver, said Col. Dioscoro Maata, the city police superintendent.

The arrest follows a Stars and Stripes investigation of the case and an ongoing Navy probe of Master Chief Petty Officer John Bench and his ties to killings in Japan and the Philippines.

The 39-year-old command master chief of the USS Denver died here Aug. 30 in a motorcycle crash after severely beating his wife and teenage daughter with a baseball bat. The body of his 12-year-old son was found hidden in a closet in the home.

Bench plotted to kill his family for nearly a year before his death and tried to arrange their murders in the Philippines several times, according to Lilibeth Eniceo, Bench’s former mistress, who is now a key witness in the Philippine criminal case following revelations she made to Stars and Stripes last September.

Eniceo said one of those murder-for-hire attempts occurred during a Bench family vacation to Manila last April that ended in the fatal shooting of their hired driver.

In a sworn statement she made to the Philippine National Police last November, Eniceo said that Bench had arranged for Santos to stage a robbery and to murder his wife, Agnes, and two children during a family sightseeing trip to Antipolo City on April 6. A copy of the statement was obtained by Stars and Stripes.

The gunman overtook the family’s taxi and executed the driver, Peter Turiano, but fled after Agnes Bench tried to grab his gun and the two struggled, Agnes Bench told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in April. She has declined requests by Stars and Stripes for an interview.

Just before the incident, John Bench met briefly with Santos at a restaurant where his family was eating lunch and the two men shook hands, according to Eniceo, who said she had been with Santos at the meeting.

“He told Dimple that they [the Bench family] will be leaving the place soon and that he would not lock the passenger door where he is seated beside the driver and that [Santos] should enter from that side of the car,” she told investigators.

Eniceo, who admitted helping Bench plan several attempts on his family’s lives between December 2008 and April 2009, identified Santos for police and has not been charged with any crimes since becoming a witness in the case.

Meanwhile, NCIS is still investigating other U.S. sailors with potential connections to the Bench case.

At least two senior enlisted sailors who served aboard the USS Denver and knew Bench were questioned by NCIS in recent months, the two men confirmed to Stars and Stripes.

One of the sailors, a chief petty officer now stationed in Bahrain, sent money by wire transfer from Sasebo Naval Base to Eniceo in May 2008, according to her sworn statement and Western Union receipts provided to Stars and Stripes and investigators.

Eniceo said the sailor was doing Bench a favor by sending her a financial support payment. Bench also sent her at least 17 wire transfers totaling $6,300 between March 2008 and August 2009, she told investigators.

In her sworn statement and in interviews with Stars and Stripes, Eniceo also claimed Bench told her that a sailor aboard the USS Denver helped with a February 2009 attempt to kill his wife and daughter during a trip to buy land at Subic Bay, Philippines.

“I learned from John that he was the one who contacted a hired killer through a friend on the ship,” she said in her sworn statement to Philippine police.

Bench wired 100,000 pesos — about $2,167 — to Eniceo and asked her to pay the hired killer by depositing the money into an anonymous Philippine bank account via an ATM, she said.

“But later on, I learned that the plan did not materialize because when the gunman called me, he said that it seems that he was being framed,” Eniceo told police.

NCIS officials in Japan referred all media queries to their Washington, D.C., office, which could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

In September, 2009, Maria Turiano holds a photo of her husband, Peter Turiano, who was shot to death in April while working as the Bench family's taxi driver.

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