A Tampa woman who paid more than $12,000 in bitcoin in an attempt to have a hitman kill her ex-boyfriend’s spouse pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal murder-for-hire charge.
DeAnna Marie Stinson admitted to allegations that she made several transactions last summer using virtual currency on a website that purported to offer hitman services. While the website did not actually deliver on said services, her efforts caught the eye of federal agents, one of whom posed as a hitman and got Stinson to pay $350 for a gun to carry out the murder.
Stinson, 50, was arrested in September. She appeared Wednesday in a remote video hearing from the Pinellas County Jail. Masked and wearing orange, she answered a series of standard questions from a judge, but said little else.
Her guilty plea came with no guarantees about the sentence she will receive. The crime carries a maximum 10-year prison term. No sentencing date has been set.
FBI agents became aware of Stinson in late July when a media organization, which is not identified in court records, alerted them to a “threat to life,” according to a criminal complaint.
Agents were led to a website that operated on what’s known as the “dark web,” a term that refers to online marketplaces that allow people to buy and sell illegal items and services. Such websites typically use encryption or other technologies to offer users greater anonymity than regular internet sites.
The website, which is not named in court records, is a scam. Stinson’s attorney, Federal Defender Alec Hall, noted in Wednesday’s hearing that the website does not actually deliver on its promised services, and only takes people’s money.
When agents pulled up the homepage last summer, they noted a greeting: “If you are looking to have someone murdered, beaten, kidnapped you have arrived at the best place.”
The website featured a public messaging forum, where agents found a July 15 post titled “Florida Job.”
“I am looking for a quick hit in southern Florida?” the message read. “Is anyone available?”
A prospective hitman posted a reply dated July 20. “Contact me,” it read.
The news organization, which had access to website data, provided the FBI with information about the user who posted the initial message, including the subscriber information, payment and transaction records, and Bitcoin addresses associated with the user’s name. The complaint does not detail how the news organization was able to access the data.
The information showed the user joined the website on June 24 and had conducted five Bitcoin transactions with a combined value of $12,307.61. The user had placed an “order” for a hitman on June 25, including the victim’s name, address and photo.
“Do not do at the home,” a message read. “Any place else is fine. Need completed during July – preferably between July 5th – 11th.”
The same user placed four similar orders in mid-July, again seeking to have the victim killed. In one message, the user offered a “bonus” if the murder could occur by July 31.
Agents later retrieved virtual currency exchange records, which detailed Bitcoin transfers between the website and an account registered to Stinson.
Court records include excerpts of chat messages the user exchanged with a website administrator in which they discussed transfers of Bitcoin to an escrow account and the process of receiving updates about “the job.”
FBI agents interviewed the victim on July 30. They learned the victim’s husband had once had a romantic relationship with Stinson.
In late August, an undercover FBI agent contacted Stinson through the WhatsApp messaging application. Posing as a hitman Stinson had contacted through the website, the agent shared with her a staged photograph of the victim. The agent asked Stinson to confirm if the person in the image was indeed the person she wanted killed.
“Looks right,” she replied. In a recorded phone call, the undercover agent told Stinson that the murder would be staged to look like a robbery and that they needed to purchase a revolver. Stinson later sent the agent $350 in bitcoin.
Stinson was arrested Sept. 23 at her home in the Tampa Palms area of north Hillsborough County.
Stinson has no prior trouble with the law. In court, she said she holds a master’s degree. Before her arrest, she ran a financial consulting business. Court records also state that she worked as the chief financial officer for her church. She has lived in Tampa for eight years, court records state, and previously lived in Miami.
Her attorney said in court that she’d known the victim and the victim’s spouse for years.