A child-custody dispute in Florida almost turned deadly when a 47-year-old mother tried to hire a hitman to kill her ex-husband who she thought might be abusing their daughter, according to federal court filings.
The woman, who lives in Tallahassee, was arrested Thursday and charged with using interstate commerce to commission a murder-for-hire, prosecutors in the Northern District of Florida said.
Law enforcement was tipped off to the alleged plot by the hitman.
A public defender appointed to represent the woman did not immediately respond to McClatchy News' request for comment on Friday. Following her arrest, a judge ordered she remain in custody pending a detention hearing next week.
McClatchy News is not naming the woman to protect the identity of her daughter.
According to an FBI agent's affidavit detailing the allegations, the hitman was a friend the woman has known since they were teenagers. He told law enforcement they kept in touch on social media and the woman knew he had a criminal history and spent some time in prison.
It was June 17 when the woman first made contact with man, identified in court documents as C.W., regarding the murder-for-hire plot, the agent said. The pair then began to communicate using encrypted messages on the app Signal.
Law enforcement reportedly told C.W. to make contact with the woman on her phone so investigators could monitor what was said.
During a recorded conversation in July, the FBI agent said the woman told C.W. she was in a custody battle with her ex-husband over their 5-year-old daughter.
She said "she has a judge that doesn't care, and that she believes the system is corrupt and preventing her from getting justice for her daughter."
Allegations of abuse
The woman also said she thought her ex-husband was physically, sexually and emotionally abusing their daughter. The only way to protect her, the woman reportedly told C.W., was to "get rid of her ex-husband for good."
When C.W. asked if she really wanted her ex-husband dead, the woman said she wasn't OK with it but was "even less okay with the thought of her daughter being abused," the affidavit states.
She said she planned to sell her house and pay C.W. with the proceeds, then take her daughter to Oregon after she got custody, the FBI agent said.
According to the affidavit, the woman had filed a complaint with law enforcement in Florida accusing her ex-husband of abusing their daughter. The Tallahassee Police Department reportedly received the complaint from the Florida Attorney General's Office on Aug. 12, which stated that she didn't get any help from the Department of Children and Family Services.
DCF had determined in a separate investigation that the allegations were unfounded, the FBI agent said. The Tallahassee Police Department is now reviewing the allegations.
Law enforcement began monitoring the woman's communications and movements after her initial conversation with the would-be hitman. According to the affidavit, the pair bought burner phones and she mailed him $1,000 in gift cards for expenses related to the plot as well as pictures of her ex-husband, his home and work addresses and what type of car he drove.
'Just break some legs, or thumbs'
Then, on Aug. 21, investigators said C.W. called the woman and told her law enforcement would be able to trace the murder-for-hire plot to them based on the initial phone conversation.
He suggested she instead use a "very good professional acquaintance named 'Paul' who does this type of work," the affidavit states. "Paul," as C.W. knew, was an undercover agent with the FBI.
Paul reached out the woman a few days later. According to the affidavit, he said he could "just break some legs, or thumbs, or something instead," but the woman said "anything less than 100% would not work." They then agreed on payment of $25,000 with $5,000 up front.
At one point, investigators said, the woman offered to pay Paulwith gold coins from South Africa worth between $6,000 and $7,000.
The pair eventually worked out a drop time and location for the $5,000 down payment at an outdoor amphitheater in Tallahassee, the FBI agent said.
On Monday, surveillance units reportedly observed the woman leave her house around 10 a.m. and arrive at the amphitheater 20 minutes later clad in black pants, a purple shirt, sunglasses and a floppy hat. According to the affidavit, she deposited a lunchbox containing an envelope with $5,000 in cash under a random seat.
The same surveillance units then observed the woman dump what she was wearing in a shopping center garbage can and donation bin, the FBI agent said.
Prosecutors filed a criminal complaint and the accompanying affidavit on Wednesday, court filings show, and the woman was arrested Thursday.
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