A 19-year-old Florida man has been arrested and charged with smuggling and possessing a deadly toxin. Authorities say he sold the illegal substance abrin (known as ‘the most poisonous plant in the world’) to law enforcement agents for bitcoin through Black Market Reloaded.
Investigators allege that LaBelle, Florida, resident Jesse William Koff had been stockpiling and selling abrin, a natural poison produced by plant seeds, since November 2013.
After months of planning, an undercover agent in New Jersey made the arrest on 18th January, The Associated Press reports.
Notably, subsequent reports detailed step-by-step, how authorities ensnared the website user. Furthermore, this news comes just days after a 25-year-old US citizen was arrested for selling a firearm to undercover law enforcement officials in The Netherlands through an unidentified online black market, suggesting that such websites are emerging as popular targets for US authorities.
Black Market Reloaded was one of a handful of black market websites that gained popularity following the demise of Silk Road. However, due in part to its predecessor’s notoriety, its users may be under more scrutiny. New Jersey US Attorney Paul J Fishman confirmed the arrest:
”He allegedly peddled the poison on a virtual black market of illegal and dangerous good, hidden in the shadow of a secretive computer network favored by cybercriminals. Had this been an actual sale to a real customer, the consequences could have been tragic.”
Orchestrating the sting
Philly.com provided a step-by-step overview of the arrest, noting that undercover Homeland Security personnel in Newark, New Jersey, began the sting by setting up a Black Market Reloaded user account and reaching out to Korff with questions related to abrin, which he was selling on the network.
In subsequent correspondences with the undercover agents, Korff allegedly incriminated himself by making informed statements about the poison as well as the best practices for its use:
“Actually alcohol would probably be the best because you know they will drink all of it. And they will start to feel flu like symptoms in 48 hours, then it will progressively get worse until they die by the fourth day.”
Korff would later attempt to further calm the agents’ fears about the quality of the product, authorities say: “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.”
On 31st December, Korff allegedly agreed to sell one dose of abrin for $1,500 in bitcoins. By 5th January, Korff had offered to include an additional dose at the reduced price of $1,000 in bitcoins and provided a bitcoin address for the law enforcement agents to send the funds.
Making the arrest
On 14th January, undercover officers set up surveillance at a rest stop to monitor the drop-off of candles said to contain the deadly poison. Law enforcement agents identified a Buick during the drop off and later traced the car to Korff’s home, where he was kept under watch.
Korff was not arrested until he sent undercover officers photographs of the drop-off point as well as the items the buyers had requested to confirm the items had been delivered. Researchers then tested the items for traces of abrin and found “a detectable amount” of the substance.
Abrin is particularly deadly poison said to be 75 times more toxic than ricin, another more well-known toxin (as featured on the popular US drama Breaking Bad).
A 2011 medical review article published in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense described the potency of the poison:
“Ricin and abrin are among the most lethal plant toxins known to humans. Even minute amounts, if effectively used, could cause considerable injury and mortality. Because of potency, stability, relative ease of production, and worldwide availability of their source plants, ricin and abrin are potential biological weapons.”
Previous arrests involving the controlled toxins have garnered those convicted 15 years in prison, which reports noted was the maximum sentence allowed under the charge.