Christopher Pence, a 41-year-old Utah man, has been indicted on federal charges related to a murder-for-hire plot, prosecutors announced Friday.

Authorities said Pence, of Cedar City, Utah solicited an assassin over the “darknet” to have two adults in Rensselaer County, New York killed. The would-be victims were not harmed, officials said. 

Federal prosecutors said Christopher Pence was jailed in Utah late last month and was transferred to the Northern District of New York, where he remains in federal custody. 

He is due to be arraigned “at a later date.” 

Feds: Christopher Pence Paid in Bitcoin for Murder-for-Hire

Federal investigators said Pence accessed a website on the “darknet” in October, seeking the murder-for-hire services of a hitman. 

The Albany Times-Union reported that the intended targets were linked to Pence by a bitter child custody dispute, which the murders were meant to end. 

According to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Albany, law enforcement was tipped off about the would-be assassinations by an anonymous whistleblower on the “darknet” website. 

“The anonymous user provided the site administrator with the names, address and photographs of the intended victims, as well as the manner in which the killing should take place,” investigators wrote in an affidavit.

“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.” 

Federal prosecutors said that Pence paid $16,000 in cryptocurrency Bitcoin for the would-be hits. 

Federal prosecutors said Christopher Pence of Utah paid $16k in Bitcoin to a darknet hitman to have two New York adults killed in a murder-for-hire plot. No one was hurt.
Federal prosecutors said Christopher Pence of Utah paid $16k in Bitcoin to a darknet hitman to have two New York adults killed in a murder-for-hire plot. No one was hurt. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Pence Was Involved in a Custody Battle

The intended victims, who were not named by law enforcement, reportedly told investigators that Christopher Pence and his family had legally adopted five of their children. 

According to court documents, the families had been involved in an “escalating dispute […] such that the intended victims desired to regain custody of their children, and were involved in the reporting of Pence’s family to local child welfare authorities, both of which reportedly angered Pence.”

“Furthermore, Pence and the intended victims did not agree on how the children should be raised or the personal choices and lifestyle of the intended victims,” the affidavit added. 

It is not clear whose custody the adopted children were in at the time of Pence’s arrest, or afterward.

Utah resident Christopher Pence will face a Federal judge in Albany, New York, after he was accused of paying $16,000 in Bitcoin in a murder-for-hire plot.
Utah resident Christopher Pence will face a Federal judge in Albany, New York, after he was accused of paying $16,000 in Bitcoin in a murder-for-hire plot. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Chillingly, the intended targets also told investigators that they recognized the photos that Pence allegedly provided to the would-be hitman — they had given Pence the pictures themselves, they said, for use in a “baby book” for one of the adopted children. 

Pence is Facing a 10-Year Sentence

The office of U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman said that, if convicted, Christopher Pence could face a 10-year prison sentence, up to $250,000 in fines, and supervision after release for up to three years. 

Officially, he is charged with “use of a facility of interstate commerce in connection with a murder for hire.” 

U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman's office is prosecuting Utah resident Christopher Pence for allegedly paying $16k in Bitcoin over the darknet in a murder-for-hire plot.
U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman’s office is prosecuting Utah resident Christopher Pence for allegedly paying $16k in Bitcoin over the darknet in a murder-for-hire plot. Photo credit: Justice.gov

Under federal law, the charge could have carried a 20-year prison sentence if “personal injury” resulted from the alleged scheme. If any of the targets in a murder-for-hire plot are actually killed, statute says, the conspirator can be imprisoned for life. 

Law enforcement did not provide a booking photo for the 41-year-old Utah resident. 

Local reporting indicates that Pence is being represented by Albany criminal defense lawyer Eric K. Schillinger. 

The Schenectady Daily Gazette reported that Pence confessed the plot to investigators last month, while they were executing a search warrant for his electronic devices.