JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Though photos appear to show a Jacksonville couple with a seemingly happy marriage, records uncovered Tuesday by the I-TEAM reveal recent financial issues that may have been a factor in an attempted murder-for-hire plot documented in a police report.
Crystal Ely, 29, was arrested last week on charges of criminal conspiracy and criminal solicitation after police said she tried to hire an undercover officer posing as a hit man to kill her 41-year-old husband, who she worked with at a towing business.
People who know the wife and husband, who News4Jax has chosen not to name or show his face, told the I-TEAM that they own a towing and wrecking service in Jacksonville's Brooklyn neighborhood. They said he manages the business and she drives the trucks.
"I've known them for years," said Randy Copeland, who runs the muffler shop that's in between their home and business.
Copeland was shocked to hear about Ely's arrest.
"They were good business partners. They worked well together for years. I never heard a word about anything," he told the I-TEAM on Tuesday.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Ely asked someone she knew to help her find a hit man to murder her husband, but that acquaintance told police.
Soon after, according to her arrest report, Ely met in person with an undercover detective posing as a hit man three times at two different locations over a span of 10 days this month. Investigators said she offered cash and jewelry in exchange for her spouse's death. Police said the meetings, as well as phone calls, were all recorded.
"Nice family," Copeland said. "(They have) two beautiful girls."
But the I-TEAM found records pointing to financial problems -- two cars repossessed in the last year and two evictions.
After her arrest Thursday, Duval County court records show, Ely asked for a public defender, claiming she can't pay for a lawyer with three children and $600 weekly pay. However, there are no documents showing marital problems or violence, making the motive still unclear.
"I am sad about it. I'm sad for him. I'm sad for her, especially those two little girls. They were very, very close to losing both of their parents," Copeland said. "Now they've lost one and it's going to be a big impact on their lives."
The I-TEAM attempted to talk to the husband but was unable to track him down. His brother-in-law said he didn't know what was going on and did not want to comment.
As of early Tuesday evening, Ely remained in the Duval County jail without bond, online jail records show.