LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Beverly Hills man will spend five years in federal prison for trying to hire a hitman to kill the woman who refused to see him after they had a brief romantic affair.
Scott Quinn Berkett, 25, was also sentenced to three years supervised release at a hearing Monday.
The five-year prison term was a rare joint recommendation by prosecutors and Berkett's attorneys and well below the 87-to-108 months the federal sentencing guidelines called for.
The recommendation outside the guidelines was based on the mental health challenges Berkett faces and the extremely social isolation he endured during the Covid-19 pandemic that led to his actions, his attorney Evan Jenness said at the hearing.
"This is a particularly difficult crime" given that it could have ended much worse if Berkett had hired an actual hitman rather than an FBI agent impersonating one, U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi said in an agreeing to the recommended sentence. "Five years is a long time for someone your age."
The judge rejected the prosecution's request to fine Berkett $20,000, saying he'd rather have him leave prison with a clean slate.
Berkett pleaded guilty in June to using interstate facilities to commit murder for hire. Although the maximum sentence for this crime is 10 years in prison, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles had agreed to ask for no more than five years.
"Defendant's crime was not a momentary lapse of judgment, but a premeditated plot to kill the victim because she rejected his advances," the prosecution said in a sentencing position. "While attempting to take a life is atrocious enough, defendant's chosen method of carrying out the crime — using the Dark Web to hire a hitman and cryptocurrency — speak to his sophistication, meticulous planning, and attempts to anonymize his illegal conduct."
Berkett, an IT engineer, and the woman had met online through a Facebook fan page for the RWBY anime series. After messaging and talking on the phone for a few months, the woman flew to Los Angeles in October 2020 for a thee-day visit with Berkett, whom she had never met in person.
Berkett paid for a hotel near the Beverly Hills house where he lived with his parents and, according to an FBI affidavit, he became "sexually aggressive" with her and she felt pressured into having sex with him.
After the trip, the woman tried to end the relationship, but Berkett refused to accept the breakup and became very possessive and constantly messaged her, according to the FBI, using different social media platforms if she didn't respond to him.
This went on until April 2021, when a family member of the woman got in touch with Berkett's father to get Berkett to stop contacting her. At that point, Berkett texted that he had blocked her from all social media and that he considered the matter closed.
That wasn't true, however, because days later Berkett got in touch with a group called the "Internet Killers" on the so-called Dark Web that advertised murder-for-hire services. Not knowing that the group was a scam, he provided the woman's personal information and paid $13,000 in bitcoin to have her killed. He also asked for her murder to look like an accident or a robbery gone wrong and for her phone to be retrieved and destroyed irreparably.
“I would like proof of her death sent to me," he instructed the group. "She has a distinctive tattoo on one of her forearms that I know the image of, so a photo of her corpse and a photo of her tattoo for identification would work.."
The Dark Web group informed an unidentified investigative media group, which in turn alerted the FBI to Berkett's plot.
An undercover FBI agent, posing as a hitman, contacted Berkett over WhatsApp and sent him a photo of the woman in a Walmart, asking if she was the intended victim and discussing further details of the requested murder. The undercover agent also instructed Berkett to wire an additional $1,000 to an individual in Scottsdale, Arizona, which he did. He was arrested the next day when he went to a grocery store to establish an alibi, thinking the hit would take place that day.
After his arrest, Berkett admitted using the Dark Web and Bitcoin, knowing where the woman lived in Idaho and where her sister lived in Arizona, according to court filings. He also claimed to have multiple personalities, one of which he identified as violent, according to the government.
Berkett has been in custody since his arrest after the government argued the sophisticated and obsessive nature of his murder plot made him a danger to the woman and the community. While in jail, prosecutors say Berkett offered cash to an unidentified individual to get in touch with the Dark Web group to make it appear he had been framed by another person.
In a victim statement read by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathy Yu in court, the woman said she still lives in fear knowing that there's someone out there who wants her dead, and watches over her shoulder and worries if she's being followed.
"I feel like I'm losing my mind more and more every day," the woman said in her statement.Follow @edpettersson
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