New York

Feds: Capital Region residents targeted by Utah man in murder-for-hire plot; Offered $16K on darknet for lives

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ALBANY — Two Capital Region residents were targeted by a Utah man in a murder-for-hire plot, federal prosecutors allege.

No one was hurt in the plot and it was uncovered before any attempt was made on the residents’ lives, according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Albany.

Charged in federal court is Christopher Pence, 41, of Cedar City, Utah, who was arrested last week and indicted Tuesday on one count of use of interstate commerce in connection with murder for hire, according to filings in court.

The plot centered around an alleged attempt by Pence to have two residents of Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County killed in a dispute over custody of children, authorities allege.

The investigation began in early September when the FBI in Albany received information from another field office regarding information they received from a source that included communications allegedly received from a darknet website that depicted a user “paying approximately $16,000 worth of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in exchange for the killing” of the two individuals.

The communications took place between July 16 and Aug. 9 and involved someone later identified as Pence attempting to arrange the killing of the two people in exchange for payment, the federal complaint reads.

Pence is accused of providing the names, addresses and photographs of the intended victims, “as well as the manner in which the killing should take place. Specifically, the user advised that the killing should be made to look like an accident or botched robbery, and that, if possible, care should be taken to not harm any of the three children known to be in the (care) of the intended victims,” the complaint reads.

The information also depicted the transfer of the Bitcoin payment, the complaint reads.

Through their investigation, authorities identified Pence as the man behind the plot, the complaint reads.

Investigators then interviewed the intended victims and confirmed they matched the information given in the plot.

They also learned of a motive for Pence, that his family had legally adopted children of the intended victims and “there was an escalating dispute between the two families such that the intended victims desired to regain custody of their children,” the complaint reads.

Pence and the intended victims also did not agree on how the children should be raised, the intended victims reported, the complaint reads.

Shown the photos used, the intended victims recognized them as the same ones the intended victims had provided to Pence and his family for use as a “baby book,” the complaint reads.

Investigators caught up with Pence on Oct. 27 with a search warrant to seize electronic devices and other evidence. In an interview, Pence admitted to being the user on the darknet depicted in the communications, that he “accessed the Darknet website using a computer connected to the Internet for the purpose of soliciting the killing of the intended victims and that he arraigned the $16,000 in Bitcoin payments,” the complaint alleges.

Pence made his initial appearance in court in Utah on Oct. 29 and was ordered held, and later ordered transferred to New York, records show.

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