A jealous woman who tried to hire a hitman to kill her love rival has been jailed for 12 years.
Whitney Franks, 26, used the dark web to try hire a Mexican contract killer to murder a woman who worked with her at Sports Direct.
The colleague was also engaging in an affair with their boss, general manager James Prest.
Franks had offered £1,000 to anyone willing to kill 29-year-old Rutt Ruutna on a website believed to be the ‘cyber division’ of the infamous Sinaloa cartel.
But she was arrested when her message was spotted by a BBC investigative journalist who forwarded it to authorities.
Franks posted her victims’s details online, so the hitman would know where to find her once they arrived at her home in Milton Keynes.
The 26-year-old, wearing a black top and a high ponytail, sobbed in the dock as Judge Paul Dugdale sent her to jail for more than a decade.
It came after a jury found her guilty of soliciting murder.
A court previously heard how the defendant was competing for the affections of the Sports Direct general manager.
This was despite both women being aware that he had a long-term partner and two children, aside from the affairs he was having with each of them.
Franks’ messages, posted on a page claiming to be run by the Sinaloa cartel, had been discovered by the BBC journalist in August 2020.
The court heard Mr Prest was involved in a relationship with the two women while having a partner and two children at home.
Andrew Copeland, prosecuting, said: ‘She had been using the dark web, as discovered by Carl Miller, an investigative journalist for the BBC.
‘He found two conversations the defendant engaged with. One said “I’m looking for the murder of a woman. I have £1,000 and I am willing to pay more. This woman has caused a lot of problems for myself and others.”
‘As a result of the police being notified by Mr Miller, they attended the address of Ms Ruttna where her landlady pointed them to the Sports Direct.
‘They spoke to her and she was in utter disbelief, but she did say “I have a hunch who did this – Whitney Franks.”‘
The court heard how Franks was arrested in 2020 and interviewed under caution, where she admitted to using a TOR browser to access the dark web.
Investigations also found she had deposited £282.57 into a bitcoin wallet.
Franks appeared before a jury and previously denied the charge, claiming she believed the website was a scam and she knew her victim was not in any danger.
Despite this, she was convicted unanimously of soliciting murder after just four hours of deliberations in July this year.
The prosecution argued that Ms Franks’ solicitation of a hitman was equivalent to attempted murder, and the psychological effect of the incident on Ms Ruttna was described as ‘severe’.
Defending, James McCrindell said: ‘There are two series of conversations over two days and what happens here is an effort to get her BitCoin back, so the inference must be that she persisted and then stopped.
‘The evidence at the trial was that the persons she was dealing with were scammers, so no harm was in fact ever going to come about. Ms Franks has done nothing to put the plan into action. All that happened is that the request was made.’
Sentencing in Reading Crown Court, Judge Paul Dugdale said while her aim never became reality, it was still serious enough to warrant a high prison sentence.
He said: : ‘In the reality of sitting at home in lockdown accessing the dark web, Whitney Franks may have not really thought through what she was doing through naivety, but accessed the dark web to access an organisation calling themselves the Sinaloa Cartel Cyber Team and she tried to contact them to hire someone to kill Rutt Ruttna.
‘She gave that organisation Rutt Ruutna’s name, address, social media details, everything they needed to find her. She said right at the start “I’m looking to hire for the murder of a woman.”
‘I understand from everything I have read how out of character that was and, very sadly for Whitney Franks and her family and friends here, that action makes this offence very serious.’
Franks, of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was sentenced to a total of 12 years imprisonment, and will have to serve two thirds of this sentence before she is eligible for parole.
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