Cops Arrest Boyfriend in Murder of Queens Man, Sources Say
QUEENS — Cops arrested a Manhattan man for allegedly murdering and robbing his boyfriend — a retired city sanitation worker — inside a Queens Boulevard motel last Saturday after an argument over sex and money.
Lleuyel Garcia, 23, of Inwood, was charged with murder, robbery, criminal possession of stolen property and tampering with physical evidence for allegedly using a shirt to strangle Joseph Benzinger, 54, prosecutors said.
Benzinger was found on the floor of a room inside the Crown Motor Inn on Feb. 9 about 11:40 p.m., police said.
According to sources, Garcia and the victim had dated for two to three years. On the day that he was killed, the pair argued over sex and money, according to sources.
After allegedly strangling Benzinger, the suspect is accused of stealing the victim's cellphone and wallet, including a debit card, and then using the card to withdraw money from two ATMs, prosecutors said.
Investigators tracked him down through phone records, sources said.
If convicted, Garcia faces 25 years to life in prison, the Queens District Attorney's office said.
"The defendant is accused of robbing and strangling the victim to death," Queens DA Richard Brown said in a statement. "His alleged actions are incomprehensible and, if true, should result in him spending the rest of his life in prison."
After Benzinger's death — which came on the heels of the murder of a gay man in Elmhurst and another in Harlem — elected officials and advocates warned the LGBT community about the dangers of online dating as well as the fact that the NYPD's Hate Crimes Task Force was looped in on the killings.
But sources said that killings were not related and that investigators did not believe they were hate crimes.
Benzinger's Middle Village neighbors described him as friendly and helpful.
“The first time we moved in here, he came to say hello and then never stopped," said next-door neighbor Gina Borbor. "He was always a very nice person.”
When her husband was at work during the recent snowstorm — just before Benzinger was killed — Benzinger helped her clean up the snow at her house.
"He saw I was having a hard time and he came by and told me to go in the house and he cleaned the whole thing for me," she said. "That’s just the kind of person he was."
Councilman Daniel Dromm, who participated in a press conference speaking out against the crime earlier this week, warned those in the LGBT community to "remain vigilant" despite the arrest.
"The other murders committed against gay men remain unsolved but I am hopeful that the NYPD will capture the perpetrators," Dromm said. "Again, I want to urge everyone that it is always important to practice safety whether meeting people online or in person."
On Jan. 27, 53-year-old middle school teacher David Rangel was found strangled and stuffed under his couch in his East Elmhurst co-op.
The motive for the crime was not clear, but investigators removed Rangel's computer from his home and were considering the theory that he may have been killed by someone he met online.
Also last month, a gay man, Charles Romo, was found beaten to death and robbed in his Harlem apartment.
Additional reporting by Paul DeBenedetto.