LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Beverly Hills man accused of making $13,000 in Bitcoin payments to hire a “hit man'' to kill a woman he briefly dated is expected to ask a judge for a second time today to allow him to be released from federal custody to await trial.
Scott Berkett, 24, is charged with murder-for-hire for allegedly sending the cybercurrency to arrange the killing and then wiring another $1,000 to the so-called hit man -- who was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
During a detention hearing conducted via Zoom in June, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Chooljian granted a prosecution request to keep Berkett behind bars on grounds he might pose a threat to the safety of the community and that he might attempt to flee the district.
The defendant will have another attempt Tuesday to appear before Chooljian in Los Angeles federal court and argue for pretrial release.
If convicted of the charge, he would face up to 10 years in federal prison.
Berkett met the woman last year online, and she flew to Los Angeles to meet him in late October. The woman -- who was not named in court papers -- described Berkett's behavior as “sexually aggressive'' and tried on several occasions to break off the relationship following the trip, an affidavit filed in the case last month alleges.
In April, a family member of the woman who had learned that Berkett continued to contact her called and sent text messages to Berkett's father's phone, and, on April 20, Berkett appears to have responded, saying “consider this matter closed,'' according to court papers.
However, Berkett allegedly contacted a group on the dark web that advertised murder-for-hire services. While law enforcement believes that the dark web group was set up to fleece people out of funds, the group contacted a media outlet, which provided information to the FBI, including messages from Berkett, who was using a screen name of “Ula77,'' and documentation of payments by him, according to the affidavit.
The media outlet provided “transaction information from an unnamed source on the dark web that showed that Bitcoin payments were made with an understanding that an unknown individual would murder'' the woman, the affidavit alleges.
“The information provided was specific about the identity and location of (the woman), as well as social media accounts, nicknames, email, and a distinctive tattoo (on her body),'' according to the affidavit.
Prosecutors say Berkett submitted his order for the hit on April 28, allegedly writing to the dark web group: “I'd like it to look like an accident, but robbery gone wrong may work better. So long as she is dead. I'd also like for her phone to be retrieved and destroyed irreparably in the process.''
The information provided to the FBI indicated that Berkett allegedly made Bitcoin payments of $13,000 between April 5 and May 5.
The undercover agent posing as a hit man made contact with Berkett and eventually sent a photo of the woman, which Berkett allegedly confirmed was the would-be victim, according to the affidavit. During the discussions with the purported killer for hire, Berkett allegedly demanded a proof-of-death photo that would show the corpse and her distinctive tattoo.
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