BBC, Bitcoin and assassins snag Knox man

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Nelson Replogle. Although Replogle is incarcerated for a murder-for-hire scheme that took place in Knox County, he’s being held in Blount County because of contracts that deal with the housing of federal prisoners in local facilities. He pleaded guilty Monday and faces up to a decade in federal prison.

An international media conglomerate, Bitcoin and a potential assassin lurking in the shadows are the ingredients of a bizarre murder-for-hire scheme that’s landed a Knox County man behind bars, according to federal court records.

Nelson Paul Replogle, 59, was arrested last week by the FBI after a frenzied investigation in which federal agents managed to repeatedly obtain banking records without the usual procedural red tape due to the imminent “threat to life” to the alleged victim, Replogle’s wife, court records show.

Portions of the case were laid out in a complaint filed by FBI Special Agent Clay M. Anderson on April 21. Only the details needed to establish probable cause for an arrest are usually made public at this point in an investigation, so Anderson’s report doesn’t provide answers to many obvious questions.

Anderson said he was told on April 20 that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had notified the FBI of a possible murder-for-hire plot targeting a North Knox County woman named Ann Replogle.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office was notified and immediately sent deputies to the address she shared with her husband, Nelson Replogle, to protect her. Agents from the FBI and a local task force also went to the house and soon the couple was being questioned as to why anyone would wish to kill Ann Replogle. 

Her husband was also questioned alone but maintained that he hadn’t tried to arrange his wife’s demise and couldn’t think of anyone who might wish to do so. 

While he was being interrogated, Anderson contacted the BBC for more information and was soon given enough to swiftly move the investigation forward.

Anderson said the BBC employees he spoke with “were able to provide transaction information from an unnamed source that showed payment that was made with the understanding that an unknown individual would murder the Victim while the Victim traveled from her residence to the veterinarian’s office while taking her pet for an appointment.”

“The information provided was very specific about date, time, vehicle make, model, and color,” he said. “The payment for the murder of the Victim was made using the virtual currency Bitcoin and the date and time of the transaction as well as the receiving Bitcoin wallet was provided.”

Anderson then provided a detailed description of Bitcoin and similar currencies. 

“Bitcoin is a type of virtual currency, circulated over the internet,” he explained. “Bitcoin are not issued by any governments, bank, or company, but rather are controlled through computer software operating via a decentralized, peer-to-peer network. Bitcoin is just one of many varieties of virtual currency.”

The investigation turned into a contest to see how fast the FBI agent could make his way through the labyrinthine paths that virtual currency can take when its owner wants anonymity. Anderson, however, was up to the task and used the threat of “imminent harm” to Ann Replogle to secure the cooperation of Coinbase, First Horizon Bank and AT&T. The companies immediately opened up their files, eventually revealing that Nelson Replogle was the owner of the account that had been used to pay for the alleged hitman. 

He was arrested the following day and charged under the federal murder for hire statute. 

If convicted he faces up to 10 years in federal prison, largely because his wife wasn’t injured. If she’d been hurt due to an attempt on her life then Replogle could have faced up to 20 years and, if she’d been killed, he’d have been looking at either a life sentence or the death penalty. 

He was being held in the Blount County Adult Detention Facility pending a detention hearing set for this morning. His court appointed attorney, Benjamin Sharp, declined to comment for this story.

One of the mysteries left unexplained by Anderson’s narrative is how exactly the BBC — which often undertakes in-depth investigative stories in locations around the world — came across the information that was used to possible save Ann Replogle’s life.

 Christopher Chafin, senior publicity manager for BBC Global News, issued this response to Hard Knox Wire’s request for information about its involvement in the case: “Hope you’re well. I look after comms for BBC News in the US. Unfortunately, we don’t have any additional comment at this time.”

There was no mention of a potential assassin being arrested in the court documents. There was also no indication of where the money that Nelson Replogle had spent ended up or how much he’d shelled out to allegedly have wife killed.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com 

Published on April 27, 2021