A Utah man was indicted for attempting to hire a hitman on the dark web to murder two New York residents.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York announced in a press release that 41-year-old Christopher Pence of Cedar City, Utah, had been charged for orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot against two individuals over a children’s custody dispute.
The investigations that led to Pence’s arrest began in September 2021, after the FBI received information from a confidential informant. The informant told the FBI that someone had paid $16,000 in bitcoin to a dark web murder-for-hire site to have two people killed.
Communications between the site’s admin and Pence allegedly took place between July 16 and August 9. Pence reportedly provided the admin with the name, photographs, and residential address of the intended victim. Pence then asked the admin to make the hit look like an accident or a robbery gone wrong. He also told the admin that the targets had three children in their custody that were to be left unharmed.
Investigations conducted by the FBI revealed that the bitcoin sent to the murder-for-hire site originated from a bitcoin wallet held by an account registered under Pence’s name. The payment was also made from an IP address that the FBI tied back to Pence. These discoveries resulted in Pence’s arrest and detention on October 27.
On being questioned, Pence’s intended victims allegedly told the FBI that Pence had legally adopted five of their children. The targets also revealed that they wanted to get back the custody of their children resulting in a custody dispute with Pence.
If found guilty Pence could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sentence could also be followed by a maximum of three years of supervised release.
The FBI National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF) participated in this investigation. Like many of the task forces discussed on this site, the NCIJTF consists of a long lists of agencies. Unlike the other task forces, the NCIJTF works with the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. The task force was effectively created by Shawn Henry who is now the president of the totally legitimate cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike.
As we all know, Crowdstrike is a very serious cybersecurity firm. Before the creation of the NCIJTF, the FBI had a cybercrime division called the Cybercrime Division. Henry was Deputy Assistant Director or Assistant Director of the Cyber Division during one of the FBI’s most well-known sting operations: the 2008 infiltration and subsequent takedown of a cybercrime forum called Dark Market. The site, which shares a name with the marketplace that was seized earlier this year, was essentially a market for fraudsters. The FBI arrested the administrator and then ran the forum for a while. The honeypoted forum had 2,500 registered users.
I realize that all of that was unrelated to the murder-for-hire case. But I thought it was important to note the involvement of intelligence agencies in a standard darkweb case.