A U.S. District Court complaint accusing a Kona woman of using bitcoin to try to hire a hit man to kill her husband was dismissed after a higher court’s ruling in an unrelated case limited agents’ ability to search electronic devices.
Emmy Baofang Chen, 52, was arrested and accused via a complaint filed in June 2019 of accessing two different dark net websites to hire a hit man to kill her husband, who filed for divorce in late 2018.
After several continuances of a preliminary hearing the case was dismissed in late April.
An April 22 order signed by Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Mansfield states the U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii dismissed the complaint “on the ground(s) that certain evidence that was collected during a border search in the course of the underlying investigation has been affected by a subsequent decision of the Ninth Circuit, United States v. Cano, 934 F.3d 1002 (2019).”
The decision referred to was handed down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in August 2019, overturning the conviction of a man for cocaine importation because Customs and Border Patrol agents searched his cellphone extensively in 2016 for evidence of drug crimes.
The three-judge panel found border officials can examine a cellphone for contraband, but cannot search it to determine whether a person committed a crime as the latter action violates a person’s Fourth Amendment right prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure.
According to an affidavit filed in June 2019, federal authorities first learned about a plot to kill Chen’s husband, R.B., in February 2019 when Homeland Security Investigations agents were alerted that an unknown subject using the monikers “HAPPYNEWYEAR” and “HAPPY 2019” tried to hire a hit man online in early January.
Subsequent investigation led agents to Chen. Upon contacting R.B. and notifying him of the “ongoing threat,” the man told federal agents in mid-February 2019 the only person who would want him dead was Chen because she was the sole beneficiary of his will. The two also had a history of disputing over finances, and Chen threatened to kill him in the past.
At the time of the alleged offense, R.B. and Chen no longer resided together. A restraining order prohibiting Chen from threatening or causing verbal or physical abuse was also in effect, according to the affidavit.
However, when contacted in mid-February 2019 by agents, R.B. said he and Chen were attempting to reconcile.
The affidavit also notes that when Chen and R.B. returned in May 2019 from the Philippines, “as part of a routine customs border search,” Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations agents interviewed each separately, and detained Chen’s electronic devices to search them.
Those devices, the affidavit states, contained evidence that Chen was responsible for the transactions with the websites used to seek out a hit man.
Email Chelsea Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.