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 hire a Mexican hitman to murder a woman who worked with her at Sports Direct.
The colleague also had an affair with their boss, general manager James Prest.
Franks had offered £1,000 to anyone who wanted to kill 29-year-old Rut Rutna on a website believed to be the “cyber arm” of the notorious Sinaloa cartel.
But she was arrested when her message was spotted by an investigative BBC journalist, who passed it on to the authorities.
Franks posted her victims’ details online so the killer would know where to find her once they arrived at her home in Milton Keynes.
The 26-year-old, wearing a black top and high ponytail, sobbed in the dock as Judge Paul Dugdale jailed her for more than a decade.
It came after a jury found her guilty of incitement to murder.
A court previously heard how the accused competed for the affections of the Sports Direct chief executive.
This was despite both women knowing he had a long-term partner and two children, in addition to the affairs he had with each of them.
Franks’ messages, posted on a page it claims is run by the Sinaloa cartel, were discovered by the BBC reporter in August 2020.
The court heard that Mr Perst had a relationship with the two women while he had a partner and two children at home.
Andrew Copeland, prosecuting, said: “He was using the dark web as discovered by Carl Miller, an investigative reporter for the BBC.
“He found two conversations the defendant had with. One said “I’m looking for the murder of a woman. I have £1,000 and am willing to pay more. This woman has caused a lot of trouble for me and others.”
“As a result of being alerted to the police by Mr Miller, they attended Ms Ruttna’s address where her landlady directed them to Sports Direct.
“They spoke to her and she was in total disbelief, but she said ‘I have an idea who did this – Whitney Franks.’
The court heard how Franks was arrested in 2020 and interviewed under caution where she admitted using a TOR browser to access the dark web.
Investigations also found he 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 knew her victim was in no danger.
Despite this, he was unanimously convicted of attempted murder after just four hours of deliberations in July this year.
The prosecution argued that Ms Franks’ incitement to a killer amounted to attempted murder and the psychological impact of the incident on Ms Rutna was described as “severe”.
James McCrindell, defending, said: “There are two sets of conversations over two days and what is happening here is an attempt to get her BitCoin back, so the inference has to be that she persisted and then stopped.
“The evidence at trial was that the people he was dealing with were crooks, so no harm was actually going to be done. Mrs. Franks did nothing to implement the plan. All that happened is that the request was made.’
Sentencing at Reading Crown Court, Judge Paul Dugdale said that while her aim was never realized, it was still serious enough to warrant a high jail term.
He said: “In the reality of sitting at home in lockdown and having access to the dark web, Whitney Franks may not have really thought about what she was doing out of naivety, but she accessed the dark web to gain access to an organization that calls itself Sinaloa Cartel Cyber Team and tried to contact them to hire someone to kill Rutt Ruttna.
“She gave this organization her name, address, social media information, everything they needed to find her. He said right at the beginning “I’m looking to hire for the murder of a woman.”
“I understand from everything I’ve read how out of place he was and, very unfortunately for Whitney Franks and her family and friends here, this action makes this offense very serious.”
Franks, from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was jailed for a total of 12 years and will have to serve two-thirds of that sentence before being eligible for parole.
Contact our news team by emailing us at email@example.com.
For more stories like this, check our news page.