GLADES COUNTY, Fla.- Jesse William Korff, of LaBelle, is expected in court today after federal agents arrested him yesterday on New Jersey federal charges, alleging he sold the potentially deadly toxin abrin through an underground, Internet-based marketplace, according to the FBI.
The criminal complaint charges the 19-year-old with one count of possession and transfer of a toxin for use as a weapon and one count of smuggling goods from the United States. Korff, who had posted a listing for the sale of the toxin on a website known as “Black Market Reloaded” (BMR), was unaware the customer who responded was an undercover HSI agent.
The defendant is scheduled for an initial appearance and bail hearing this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas N. Frazier in Fort Myers. He will be brought to New Jersey to appear in Newark federal court on a date to be determined.
According to the criminal complaint:
Beginning in April 2013, HSI special agents conducted an investigation of illicit sales activity on BMR. The website provides a platform for vendors and buyers to conduct anonymous online transactions involving the sale of a variety of illegal goods, including biological agents, toxins, firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and counterfeit items. Unlike mainstream e-commerce websites, BMR is only accessible via the Tor network – a special computer network designed to enable users to conceal their identities and locations. Transactions on BMR are conducted using Bitcoin, a decentralized form of electronic currency that only exists online. Korff maintained a seller’s profile on BMR, through which he negotiated the sale of two liquid doses of abrin to the undercover agent. During their online conversations, Korff told the buyer about his delivery methods – concealing vials in a carved-out and re-melted candle – and discussed how much abrin was needed to kill a person of a particular weight and how best to administer the toxin. Korff also assured the buyer that a victim’s death would appear to be a bad case of the flu. Korff and the buyer agreed on a total purchase price of $2,500 for two doses of the poison. The undercover transferred a deposit – the equivalent of $1,500 in Bitcoin – from a bank account in New Jersey to Korff on Jan. 6, 2014. The pair agreed that the buyer would travel from Canada on Jan. 15, 2014, to retrieve the abrin from a prearranged location. Korff sent the agent pictures of a specific spot at a rest stop approximately 10 miles outside Fort Myers where he planned to leave the package.
On the arranged day, Korff dropped off a fast food bag containing two wax candles at the location. An undercover agent collected the bag and left behind an additional deposit toward the remaining payment. Law enforcement had Korff under surveillance throughout the transaction. The candles were found to contain vials of liquid containing a detectable amount of abrin. Even small doses of abrin are potentially lethal to humans if ingested, inhaled or injected – causing death within 36 to 72 hours from the time of exposure.
The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.