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Washington County Dairy Queen employee arrested in theft plot

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

A Dairy Queen employee and her boyfriend were arrested Tuesday for an attempted robbery at a Washington County restaurant last week.

Michelle Mueller and James Bennitto, both 28, of 24 Circle Drive, Finleyville, were arrested by Southwest Regional Police for the incident at the restaurant along Route 88 in Union Township around 7:45 p.m. Saturday.

Police said Bennitto entered the restaurant with a black handgun and demanded money.

Bennitto allegedly threatened to shoot the three employees if they didn't hand over their money.

Instead, the employees ran from the store without handing over the cash, police said. Bennitto followed them outside, pointed the weapon at them and yelled at them. He then turned and ran north on Route 88 toward the South Park area.

Police said Mueller served as his getaway driver.

Investigators were led to the couple after Dairy Queen owner Jim Olah told them Mueller suddenly quit and went home early a short time before the attempted robbery. He said the robber matched the height and weight of Bennitto, who he knew was on house arrest.

Police discovered from Bennitto's parole officer that the suspect's ankle bracelet alerted he was out of range of his home from approximately 7:35 to 7:47 Saturday night. He lives within a quarter mile of the restaurant, and the ankle bracelet alerts 50 feet from the residence, according to court papers.

Police said both Mueller and Bennitto confessed to their roles in the robbery. During a search of their home, police found heroin, syringes, a switchblade knife and a cane containing a hidden double-edged blade.

Bennitto was charged with attempted robbery, aggravated assault, terrorist threats, reckless endangerment, possession of prohibited weapons, and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. He is in the Washington County Jail in lieu of posting $250,000 bond.

Mueller was charged with criminal conspiracy and was released on her own recognizance.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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