A Florida man is facing federal charges in New Jersey for allegedly selling poison through a black marketplace on the underground Internet.
Investigators said Jesse Korff, 19, of Labelle, Fla. from November 2013 through Jan. 15 produced, stockpiled and sold abrin for use as a weapon.
Abrin, which can be extracted from the seeds of the rosary pea plant, is considered a subset of biological agents and toxins federal authorities deem pose a threat to public health and safety. Small doses of abrin are potentially lethal to humans if ingested, inhaled or injected.
“The criminal complaint alleges Jesse Korff was willing to sell a potentially deadly toxin to a stranger over the Internet,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. “He allegedly peddled the poison on a virtual black market of illegal and dangerous goods, hidden in the shadow of a secretive computer network favored by cybercriminals.”
Korff allegedly sold abrin through anonymous marketplace “Black Market Reloaded,” a site only acccesible on the Tor network where purchases can be made using decentralized electronic currency Bitcoin. An undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent in Newark created a BMR user account and reached out to Korff with questions about the toxin.
Korff on Dec. 23 allegedly wrote back abrin was “not a pill” but “comes in a liquid to put in a drink or in food like the bun of a cheeseburger.” Korff four days later told the undercover he would conceal the toxin in a hollowed-out candle with wax poured on top, according to the complaint. Korff is further accused of cautioning the officer the drink designated to be poisoned “should be somewhat dark,” suggesting either coke or a shot of brown liquor. “Actually alcohol would probably be the best because you know they will drink all of it,” Korff allegedly wrote. “And they will start to feel flu like symptoms in 48 hours, then it will progressively get worse until they die by the forth [sic] day.”
The investigator on Dec. 31 sent Korff a message agreeing to send $1,500 in Bitcoin in exchange for one dose of abrin. He asked Korff what the death of his intended victim would look like to a doctor, to which Korff replied Jan. 1, “a really bad case of the flu” and that “no doctor will suspect foul play so there will most likely be no autopsy,” court documents state.
Korff on Jan. 5 messaged the undercover with a Bitcoin address for the payment and with the location of a Florida rest stop where Korff would leave the abrin for the officer to pick up. The agent in several messages indicated to Korff he would be driving down from Canada to pick up the toxin and take it back to his home country, according to the complaint.
Korff allegedly replied Jan. 13 to some of the undercover agent's concerns by saying, “I guarantee it will work ... if you drop the abrin in someone's drink Wednesday he will be dead Friday and there is no way to trace it after 24 hours of ingestion." Korff then offered to sell the undercover a second dose of abrin for a discounted price of $1,000, court documents state.
Officials established surveillance of the rest stop and on Jan. 14 saw the driver of a Buick inspecting areas of land near the road. Investigators were able to trace the Buick back to Korff and also began monitoring the man’s home.
Korff on Jan. 14 allegedly sent the undercover photographs of the proposed drop-off point and said he would put the abrin-containing candles in a McDonalds bag behind a no trespassing sign. Korff was busted after investigators allegedly saw him leave his home, go into a McDonalds near the rest stop and leave the food bag in the location depicted in the photos. A laboratory analysis of the suspected toxin were found to contain “a detectable amount of abrin,” according to the complaint.
Korff was arrested Saturday and charged with one count each of possession and transfer of a toxin for use as a weapon and smuggling goods out of the United States. Korff was scheduled Tuesday afternoon to make an initial appearance and bail hearing before a federal court in Fort Myers, Fla. He will be brought to New Jersey to appear in Newark federal court on an undetermined date.
“Had this been an actual sale to a real customer, the consequences could have been tragic,” Fishman said. “Fortunately, an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a buyer was able to get a dangerous chemical weapon and its alleged seller off our streets.”