Jacksonville grandmother jailed in kill-for-hire plot

A Jacksonville grandmother is in federal custody facing charges that she tried to hire a hit man, who was actually an FBI agent, to kill her daughter's ex-husband to keep him from getting custody of her granddaughter.

Jeri Dianna Tarter, 69, made her initial appearance Monday by video conference from a jail before U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Deere, who, after Tarter's arrest, unsealed a criminal complaint that had been filed Thursday.

The complaint is supported by an FBI agent's six-page affidavit that led Deere to issue an arrest warrant for Tarter, who lives at 1 Tara Mount Drive in Jacksonville.

A criminal complaint is used in federal court to hold defendants in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service until their case can be reviewed by a federal grand jury for possible indictment. The complaint charges Tarter with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire.

According to the affidavit, on Oct. 5, Tarter used her cellphone to contact a man she had met 15 years earlier when he worked as a security guard at a club where her daughter was a bartender. Tarter asked to meet with the man, and on Oct. 7, met with him at a Chili's restaurant in Little Rock.

There, according to the affidavit, Tarter informed the man that one of her daughters was engaged in a custody battle with her ex-husband, who lives in Lonoke County. The custody battle had become so fierce, Tarter told the man, that she and her daughter had been arrested in Arizona on accusations of kidnapping the girl, and were held for 36 days on a warrant from Lonoke County.

In laying out probable cause in support of an arrest warrant, FBI Agent Daniel Turner wrote that according to the man, who is identified only as a "reporting person," Tarter claimed that her daughter's ex-husband had been abusive toward Tarter's daughter and granddaughter, and sold drugs. She asked the unidentified man to either "take care of him" or "find somebody who can."

The man, who told Tarter he might know someone who could look into the drug allegation, received a voice-mail two days later from Tarter, who said something was happening that day with the custody matter and asked if he had made any progress. The man instead called Little Rock police the next day.

On Oct. 14, after obtaining authorization to monitor conversations between Tarter and the unidentified man, Agent Turner listened as the man told Tarter that he was out of state but knew someone in Memphis who might be sympathetic to her situation. Turner said the grandmother readily agreed to let the Memphis man have her phone number, and even said she would travel to Memphis to meet him in person.

Rob Bell, another member of the Little Rock FBI's GETROCK Task Force, contacted Tarter the next day, posing as the Memphis man, and he and Tarter met the afternoon of Oct. 20 in the parking lot of a Walmart store in Jacksonville, according to the affidavit.

It said Tarter handed Bell $100 cash that she had promised to pay him if he would drive to Little Rock to meet her. Agent Turner noted that the FBI had her under surveillance as she drove from her home to a bank just before the meeting, presumably to withdraw the cash.

After Tarter provided Bell with some information about the custody dispute, Bell asked if she wanted him to scare her daughter's ex-husband, or what she wanted him to do.

"Tarter implied that she wanted her former son-in-law to suffer an accident," the affidavit states. It says Bell attempted to clarify what she meant, and Tarter "clearly implied that ... Bell should kill" the former son-in-law, and make it look like an accident.

The document states that Tarter told the undercover officer that she had hired another person to kill both her son-in-law and his mother, but that person had backed out. She also indicated that her daughter wasn't aware of her plan.

The affidavit said Tarter told the agent that she wasn't afraid to go to prison "and would do it herself if she were younger or 80 pounds lighter."

Turner wrote that during Tarter's monitored conversation with the undercover agent, she recalled a time when she was driving her car and fired a .45-caliber handgun several times into an occupied vehicle in an effort to get rid of witnesses, but had to back off after one of her passengers became upset. The document doesn't say whether she explained what the people had witnessed or might be called to testify about.

The affidavit says that Tarter and the undercover agent discussed ways to carry out the son-in-law's murder without it being traced back to her, and the agent said he might be able to make it look like a house burglary. It says she replied "that she wanted it done before the coming weekend."

Tarter offered to pay the agent $1,500, but he said it would cost $2,000 and asked for $500 of the cash in advance to buy a new gun that couldn't be traced to her, according to the affidavit.

Agent Turner wrote that FBI agents then watched Tarter drive away to an automatic teller machine, presumably to get the $500, before returning to the Walmart lot and handing over that amount of cash to Bell.

The following night, on Oct. 21, Turner said Tarter sent Bell a text message with her former son-in-law's address.

Court records show that Deere issued an arrest warrant the following day, Thursday, and by Friday, Tarter was in custody.

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