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Press Release

Columbus Woman Sentenced to 72 Months for Role in Murder-For-Hire Plot

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Wisconsin

MADISON, WIS. – Timothy M. O’Shea, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Kelly Harper, 38, Columbus, Wisconsin was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley to 72 months in federal prison for using the Internet with the intent that the murder of a known individual be committed in exchange for bitcoin.   Harper pleaded guilty to this charge on June 24, 2021. 

On January 12, 2021, a group of journalists informed a known victim (KV) they were investigating murder-for-hire sites on the dark web, and that they uncovered information showing someone wanted KV killed.  In addition, the journalist provided KV with copies of chat messages between an unknown subject (UNSUB) and the murder-for-hire website administrator.  In these chats, UNSUB gave the administrator detailed information about KV, including KV’s photograph, place of employment, and vehicle description.  UNSUB also directed the administrator to kill KV.  KV notified law enforcement and provided copies of the chat messages to the FBI.

During its review of these messages, the FBI determined UNSUB also paid bitcoin to a second murder-for-hire website with the intention of having KV killed.  An analyst from the FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit tracked this bitcoin transfer and identified UNSUB as Kelly Harper.

Agents from the FBI’s Milwaukee Field Office executed a search warrant at Harper’s residence and found screenshots from a murder-for-hire dark website, as well as one of the pictures Harper sent to the murder-for-hire website administrator.  Agents also interviewed Harper, who admitted to paying bitcoin to the murder-for-hire website administrator in order to have KV killed. 

The charge against Harper was the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, and Sun Prairie Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Chadwick M. Elgersma prosecuted this case. 

Updated September 30, 2021

Violent Crime