TRENTON, N.J. — A Florida man admitted to producing and selling potentially the deadly toxins ricin and abrin for use as weapons and conspiring to kill a woman in the United Kingdom. The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Jesse William Korff, 19, of LaBelle, Florida, pleaded guilty Tuesday to five counts of developing, producing, transferring and possessing toxins, five counts of smuggling toxins and one count of conspiring to kill a person in a foreign country.
"HSI has worked tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to shutter underground websites such as Black Market Reloaded and arrest those responsible for reckless and dangerous illegal activity," Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of HSI Newark, said. "Anyone involved in the sale of toxins designed for use in chemical terrorism must be stopped, and this guilty plea shows HSI's commitment to stopping individuals who show callous disregard for public safety in the interest of making a buck."
"Jesse Korff admitted producing and selling potentially deadly toxins to strangers over the Internet," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. "Working in the shadows of a secretive computer network favored by cybercriminals, he peddled his poison on a virtual black market of illegal and dangerous goods. Today he admitted he was in the midst of aiding an overseas customer in an attempted murder. Thankfully, an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a buyer was able get Korff off the street before he could conclude the transaction."
According to court documents, in April 2013 HSI special agents began investigating illicit sales activity on an underground Internet marketplace known as Black Market Reloaded (BMR). The website provided a platform for vendors and buyers to conduct anonymous online transactions involving biological agents, toxins, firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and counterfeit items.
From August 2013 through January 2014 Korff maintained a seller's profile on BMR under the screen name Snowman840. He advertised the sale of deadly toxins and provided his prospective purchasers with information about quantities necessary to kill a person of a given weight, along with instructions on how to secretly administer the toxin to avoid suspicion. Korff sold ricin and abrin to international purchasers in India, Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom. He smuggled the toxins from Florida to the international purchasers by concealing the toxins in packages sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
In December 2013 Korff provided a quantity of abrin to a purchaser in London who claimed she intended to kill her mother. After the purchaser's receipt and administration of the initial dose, which she claimed was ineffective, Korff agreed to provide a second quantity of the toxin in order to assist the purchaser in the implementation of the murder plot.
Before Korff had an opportunity to smuggle the second dose of abrin to the London purchaser, an HSI undercover agent contacted Korff through BMR and negotiated the sale of two liquid doses of abrin. 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 HSI undercover agent that a victim's death would appear to be similar to a bad case of the flu.
Following Korff's arrest, agents searched Korff's property over three days and recovered several computers, castor beans, rosary peas, capsules, vials, jars, syringes, filters, respirators and other items commonly utilized in the manufacture, production, sale, packaging and shipping of toxins and chemical substances. Among the items recovered was a liquid dose of abrin that Korff had intended to ship to the London purchaser.
The toxin and murder conspiracy charges to which Korff pleaded guilty carry a maximum potential penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The smuggling charges carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2014.
The United States Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, the Glades County, Henry County and Less County, Florida sheriff's offices, and the London Metropolitan Police Service provided assistance with the investigation.