Journalists investigating a murder-for-hire website in Wisconsin led to the arrest of a woman who allegedly used bitcoin cryptocurrency in a failed plot to hire a hit man through the dark web.
Kelly Harper, 37, of Columbus, was charged with using the internet to hire someone to commit murder, the Justice Department announced Monday. She faces up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted.
Harper admitted to an FBI agent that she paid the administrator of a murder-for-hire website in bitcoin to have a man killed, according to the criminal complaint, which didn’t specify a motive.
Journalists uncovered information about the plot and tipped local authorities on Jan. 12, the complaint said. The journalists located the intended target and determined he was safe.
“The target needs to be killed,” a message to the murder-for-hire website’s administrator read. The unidentified sender supplied the administrator with identifying details of the intended victim, including the type of vehicle he drives, where he works and his phone number, according to the complaint.
A website administrator responded by asking for proof of payment in the form of bitcoin. The sender then shared a screenshot of a bitcoin wallet valued at $5,633.87, the complaint said.
The journalists said an analysis of online communication between the sender and the administrator of the website, located outside of Wisconsin, revealed that bitcoin was transferred in October to a second murder-for-hire website on the so-called dark web, an encrypted corner of the internet not indexed by search engines.
The journalists, who were not identified in the complaint, provided their bitcoin analysis to federal agents and it was verified by the FBI. It was through this information that authorities said they linked Harper to the contract murder plot.
“Through the use of grand jury subpoenas, I determined that the IP address, email account, and telephone number were associated with Kelly Harper,” an FBI agent stated in the complaint.
Authorities searched Harper’s home on Feb. 5 with a warrant and said they discovered screenshots of a murder-for-hire dark website, as well as a picture that was sent to the site administrator during negotiations about the killing.
An attorney listed as representing Harper did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Tuesday.