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So, what's the going rate for a hit man? Not much, apparently

A check for $1,000, another $1,100 in cash, a gift card to Westshore Pizza for $13.06.

To kill someone?

That's the sum authorities say Edward Graziano of Palm Harbor paid a man to kill his wife. The man ended up being an undercover Pinellas County deputy. Graziano was charged Thursday with murder solicitation.

The price for the hit sounds low.

It's not.

"It didn't strike me as low, to be quite candid," longtime Pasco County prosecutor Mike Halkitis said Friday from his office in New Port Richey.

"I've heard of people killed for as little as a carton of cigarettes," retired prosecutor Bob Dekle said from Gainesville. He worked out of Lake City for 30 years and prosecuted Ted Bundy. He now teaches at the University of Florida's law school. "I wish I had kept a list," he said, "of all the piddling amounts people killed for."

There's no going rate for so-called contract killings or murder-for-hire schemes. Sometimes the sums are next to nothing. Sometimes they're six figures.

Also important to keep in mind here is that in many cases — including the Graziano case — the "hit man" is really an undercover law enforcement officer. They might throw out a low-ball offer just to get an arrest.

The Australian Institute of Criminology five years ago released a study on 163 attempted contract killings in that country between 1989 and 2002. The lowest price was $250. The highest was almost $50,000. The average was $8,200.

A wealthy socialite in Texas once offered an undercover investigator $200,000 in jewels as a down payment to kill her husband — but the same investigator on another occasion was offered seven Atari computer games, three dollar bills and $2.30 in nickels and dimes. A teenage boy wanted him to kill a classmate who liked the same girl.

Here in Florida, a 60-year-old woman in Tavares admitted in 2007 that she was part of a plot to kill her son's wife, his two teenage stepchildren and his daughter. She had agreed to pay $400. A hundred a head.

But a contract killing isn't about the value of a life. It's a business transaction.

"It's based on the level of sophistication of the players involved," UF law professor and former Tampa federal prosecutor Mike Seigel said Friday.

More than that, said Don Barbee, the lead prosecutor in Hernando County, "a lot of it depends on the socioeconomic status of the parties involved."

In other words, the more the employer has, the more money he can offer.

Meanwhile, for the employee, it's a question of time and effort.

"It's very simple," said the head of the economics department at the University of South Florida.

Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong teaches a class called the economics of crime. He said Friday that a contract killing is like anything else. It's a cost-benefit equation inside the head of the individual who has to decide whether to murder for money.

And anyone who's thinking about it, he said, is almost by definition not thinking about the life involved. The variables look more like this: What are the chances of getting caught? How much money is at stake?

It doesn't take long to kill somebody. Or at least it doesn't have to. Looked at like that, $2,100 and a pizza pie, too, doesn't seem like a bad rate.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report, which also used information from the Orlando Sentinel, Texas Monthly and Slate.

So, what's the going rate for a hit man? Not much, apparently 02/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:20am]
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