TAMPA — Priscilla Ellis was so incensed after a Tampa federal jury found her guilty of fraud that she immediately tried to hire a hit man to retaliate against witnesses.
She directed that the mother of a man who testified against her receive a "Colombian necktie," a killing technique in which the victim's throat is slit and the tongue pulled through the open wound.
"Obviously, I had some bad judgment," she said Thursday as she stood shackled before Senior U.S. District Judge James Moody. "I apologize for that."
Moody imposed a 65-year prison term on Ellis, to be served on top of the 40 years she already received for her fraud conviction. Though she apologized, Ellis still claimed entrapment and said she never intended to have anyone killed.
Ellis, 51, had a role in a fraud scheme that netted more than $11 million. She worked with others to orchestrate a variety of cons using wire transfers and counterfeit checks. Victims included law firms, title companies and patrons of Internet dating websites.
Within 24 hours of her conviction, Ellis began soliciting fellow inmates in the Pinellas County Jail to arrange the murder of one trial witness and the mother of another, records show. A jailhouse informer alerted the FBI, then worked with agents to secretly record conversations with Ellis.
In the recordings, Ellis reiterated that she wanted one witness killed, believing the death would prevent future testimony at what she expected would be her eventual retrial. She also requested that the mother of a second witness receive a Colombian necktie, a warning against snitching.
She offered $800 per victim.
An FBI employee posing as the informer's cousin and would-be hit man later visited Ellis in jail. Ellis mentioned that the first victim had a 9-year-old daughter. She said she was willing to pay extra for the hit man to "checkmate" the girl, too, if she happened to be present when the killing happened.
Ellis later enlisted her 18-year-old daughter to put her in touch with a Nigerian man who helped her obtain counterfeit checks, according to court documents. She directed her daughter to deliver $1,600 from the checks to pay for the hit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Gerard told the judge Thursday that Ellis "has no regard for any life but her own."
"She is a menace to anyone who catches her attention," Gerard said, "whether it's her own daughter or whether it's a 9-year-old girl."