Two defendants enter guilty plea in Missouri murder for hire scheme

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United States District Court Judge John A. Ross accepted a plea of guilty from Terica Taneisha Ellis and Waiel Rebhi Yaghnam.  A grand jury in the Eastern District of Missouri previously indicted Yaghnam and Ellis in August of 2020.  Additional charges were filed in November 2020 for Yaghnam and Ellis for their roles in the murder-for-hire scheme involving James Timothy Norman and the death of Andre Montgomery. Judge Ross set sentencing for October 26, 2022.  

According to the plea agreements, beginning at a time unknown, but up to and including March 14, 2016, and through the date of the superseding information, in the City of St. Louis and elsewhere within the Eastern District of Missouri, Terica Ellis, James Timothy Norman, and others reached an agreement to use a facility of interstate commerce, namely, a cellular telephone, to commit a murder-for-hire in exchange for United States currency, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1958.  In 2014, Norman obtained a $450,000 life insurance policy on his 20-year-old nephew, Andre Montgomery, on which Norman was the sole beneficiary. 

Ellis and Norman had been involved in a sexual relationship for several years preceding the events of March 14, 2016.  At Norman’s request, Ellis met him at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, where they spoke and engaged in sexual intercourse.  Afterward, Norman and Ellis spoke about Norman’s nephew, Andre Montgomery.  Norman showed her a photograph of Montgomery and asked if she knew him. 

Ellis advised that she had previously met Montgomery at Bottom’s Up, an exotic dance club in East St. Louis where she worked as a dancer.  Norman advised Ellis that he was looking for Montgomery and needed her help to find him.  Norman further explained that he was upset with his nephew.  She informed Norman that Montgomery had introduced himself to her as a rapper from New Orleans while at Bottom’s Up and that they had exchanged phone numbers at that time.

Ellis agreed to assist Norman in locating Montgomery on March 14, 2016.  Norman had advised her that he was looking for his nephew, and Ellis knew that Norman was upset and frustrated by his inability to locate Montgomery and knew that Norman was going to take some form of action relative to Montgomery.  Despite this, Ellis did not take any affirmative steps to disavow or defeat the purpose of the commission of violent criminal activity on March 14, 2016.

In the days leading up to Montgomery’s murder, Ellis, communicated with Montgomery and informed him that she was planning to be in St. Louis.  On March 13, 2016, the day before Montgomery’s murder, Norman flew to St. Louis, Missouri from his home in Los Angeles, California.  On March 14, 2016, Ellis and Norman communicated using temporary phones activated that day.  Ellis also used the temporary phone to communicate with Montgomery and learn his physical location for the purpose of luring Montgomery outside. 

Immediately after learning Montgomery’s location, Ellis placed a call to Norman.  On March 14, 2016, at approximately 8:02 p.m., Montgomery was killed by gunfire at 3964 Natural Bridge Avenue in the City of St. Louis.  Ellis’s phone location information places her in the vicinity of the murder at the time of the homicide.  Immediately following Montgomery’s murder, Ellis placed a call to Norman and then began traveling to Memphis, Tennessee.  In the days after the murder, Ellis accepted a cash payment of $10,000.00 in U.S. currency from Norman in exchange for, among other things, finding out the location of Montgomery, causing him to come outside, and relaying the location information to co-defendants Norman and Travell Hill.  Hill subsequently shot and killed Montgomery.  Hill pleaded guilty to the charges on June 3, 2022.

On March 15, 2016, the day after Montgomery’s homicide, Ellis deposited $3,020.00 in U.S. currency into her checking account at the Orange Mound branch of the First Horizon Bank in Memphis, Tennessee.  On the same date, she also deposited $4,340.00 into a savings account opened that day at the same bank in Memphis, Tennessee, for a total of $7,360.00 in cash deposits.  On March 17, 2016, Ellis deposited an additional $1,900.00 in U.S. Currency into her checking account at the same branch.  These deposits were all cash proceeds from the agreement she had made with Norman. 

On March 18, 2016, Norman contacted the life insurance company in an attempt to collect on the life insurance policy he had obtained for his nephew.

According to Yaghnam’s plea agreement, prior to Montgomery’s murder, Norman conspired with Yaghnam, his insurance agent, to fraudulently obtain a life insurance policy on Montgomery.  Beginning in October of 2014, Norman and Yaghnam submitted three separate life insurance applications, all containing numerous false statements regarding Montgomery’s income, net worth, medical history, employment, and family background. 

In the life insurance policy that was ultimately issued, Norman obtained a $200,000 policy, as well as a $200,000 accidental death rider that would pay out if Montgomery died of something other than natural causes, and a $50,000 10-year-term rider that would pay out if Montgomery died within 10 years of the policy’s issuance in 2014.

Following the murder of Andre Montgomery, Yaghnam placed two telephone calls to one of the insurance agencies seeking to file a claim on the life insurance policy James Timothy Norman owned on the victim. 

On March 30, 2016, Yaghnam placed a phone call to Foresters Insurance agency lasting 10 minutes and two seconds. On May 21, 2016, Norman submitted to Foresters via US mail a written claim on his life insurance policy on Andre Montgomery.

On July 6, 2016, Norman received a letter via US mail from Foresters indicating that Foresters still had not received the finalized police, toxicology, and coroner’s reports necessary to process his claim on the life insurance policy. Between August 2016 and November of 2016, Norman repeatedly contacted Foresters in connection with his attempt to claim the life insurance policy.

In or about September of 2018, Norman retained an attorney to represent him in connection with his attempt to claim the Foresters life insurance policy. That attorney subsequently sent a letter to Foresters indicating that Norman had authorized the attorney to file a lawsuit for failure to promptly pay the life insurance claim.  On September 26, 2019, Foresters sent Norman a letter via US mail advising that as of the date of the letter, Foresters still had not received all the documentation required to adjudicate his claim on the life insurance policy.

Co-defendant Travell Hill pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing scheduled for September 20, 2022.  James Timothy Norman is currently awaiting trial. 

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

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