Feds: SC inmate tried to hire hit man to kill prosecutor

Unknown to the inmate, the "hit man" he was talking with was an undercover FBI agent


By John Monk
The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A plot by an inmate at the Edgefield County federal prison to hire a hit man to kill a federal prosecutor has been foiled, a complaint made public Thursday charged.

Richard Gilbert, 49, an inmate who was incarcerated at the Edgefield Federal Correctional Institute, a medium security facility, tried to hire a contract killer to do away with a federal prosecutor and the key witness in a Kentucky drug case in which Gilbert was convicted, the complaint said.

Gilbert is charged with retaliating against an informant, murder for hire and money laundering, the complaint said.

Unknown to Gilbert, the "hit man" he was talking with was an undercover FBI agent, the complaint said.

"The charges stem from an undercover operation during which Gilbert, from a contraband cell phone in prison, communicated with an undercover task force officer with the FBI who has posing as a hit man," a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbia said.

Gilbert plead guilty in 2019 in a methamphetamine trafficking case in the Western District of Kentucky and was serving a term of about 11 years in Edgefield, according the complaint in his case.

Gilbert had been snared in a law enforcement sting in which an informant introduced Gilbert to two undercover law officers who bought methamphetamine from him — sales which led to Gilbert's conviction, the complaint said.

That informant, who was a witness in Gilbert's case, was the person Gilbert wanted to kill, the complaint said.

The complaint, which was full of details, alleged that Gilbert drew maps of where he believed the witness in his case was living and gave directions to the undercover officer posing as a hit man on how to avoid detection from nearby surveillance cameras.

"Following multiple recorded phone calls, Gilbert sent the undercover officer a $2,000 check from his prison canteen account as a down payment for the retaliatory murder-for-hire," the press release said.

Gilbert told officials the payment was for an investment firm, the release said.

This is the fourth South Carolina case in recent years in which the FBI has played a major role in uncovering an alleged murder for hire plot.

  • In 2019, a federal jury found S.C. prison inmate Michael Young guilty of paying a man on the internet — who was actually an undercover FBI agent — to send a bomb through the mail so a friend of Young's could use it to kill Young's ex-wife. Young was sentenced to 43 years in prison.
  • Also in 2019, a federal judge gave a Greenwood County white man, Brandon Lecroy, 10 years in prison for trying to hire a Ku Klux Klan member — who was an undercover FBI agent — to kill his black neighbor with whom he was quarreling.
  • Earlier this year, a federal judge gave Upstate drug trafficker Detric McGowan 35 years in prison for drug offenses and for plotting to hire someone to kill the prosecutor and a key witness in his case. The FBI recorded conversations that McGowan had with an informant in the case, conversations that proved to be crucial evidence.

Peter McCoy, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, said, "Those who seek violent retribution on law enforcement and individuals who assist law enforcement will be accountable."

McCoy continued, "Violence is a plague on our society that can only be cured with the faithful commitment of dedicated law enforcement officers and prosecutors. We must remember that they put their lives on the line every day to ensure the laws of our society are applied."

Bryan Stirling, director of the SC Department of Corrections who is a national leader in trying to get laws passed to allow state prison officials to use jamming technology to stop inmates from using cell phones, said Thursday the current case is a good illustration of why such laws are needed.

"This shows that federal prisons are susceptible to the same types of illegal contraband cell phones as state prisons are," Stirling said

South Carolina federal prosecutors handling the case are Jim May, Justin Holloway and Will Jordan.

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(c)2020 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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