NEWARK, N.J. – An Indiana man admitted Thursday to transporting weapons to New Jersey in connection with illegal firearms trafficking and sales activity he conducted on an underground internet based marketplace known as Alphabay. The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Benjamin Donald Brunni, 19, of Greensburg, Indiana, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian R. Martinotti in Trenton federal court to one count of transporting and selling firearms without a license.
Co-defendant Nicholas Michael Albertson, 20, of Columbus, Indiana, pleaded guilty to the same offense on July 14, 2017. The arrests of Brunni and Albertson stemmed from a larger law enforcement operation initiated by HSI that targeted illegal activities conducted through the Darknet since 2013.
“This case highlights the danger posed by Darknet marketplaces that offer one-stop anonymous shopping for criminal services,” Acting U.S. Attorney William F. Fitzpatrick said. “A brief series of online communications was all it took to negotiate a $7,550 illicit firearms purchase and send Brunni and Albertson from Indiana to New Jersey to deliver an arsenal of assault rifles and untraceable handguns. Thankfully, a sophisticated undercover operation intercepted the guns and put these two out of business.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Beginning in April 2013, HSI special agents conducted an undercover investigation of illicit sales activity on various Darknet internet platforms. During the course of the investigation, Alphabay was identified as a website that provided a platform for vendors and buyers to conduct anonymous online transactions involving the sale of a variety of illegal goods, including firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics, and counterfeit items.
Unlike mainstream e-commerce websites, Alphabay was only accessible via the “Tor” network, which enabled its users to conceal their identities and physical locations. Although Tor has known legitimate uses, it is also used by cybercriminals seeking anonymity during illicit online activities.
During the course of the investigation, HSI agents learned that Brunni maintained a profile on Alphabay in which he expressed interest in the sale and purchase of firearms and ammunition. For approximately one month, Brunni negotiated with an undercover officer, whom he believed was an international purchaser of firearms, for the sale of numerous semi-automatic handguns and rifles.
Ultimately, Brunni agreed to sell 10 firearms to the undercover agents, including eight Glock-model semi-automatic handguns with obliterated serial numbers and two semi-automatic rifles for $7,550. Brunni also agreed to transport the weapons from his home in Indiana to New Jersey to complete the transaction.
On Sept. 9, 2016, Brunni and Albertson traveled to the meeting spot at a truck stop in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, and were subsequently arrested. Law enforcement agents recovered a loaded Smith & Wesson Model 5906 S-A Pistol in the vicinity of the Mercedes driver’s seat, as well as three Glock Model 22 Pistols, one Glock Model 17 Gen 4 Pistol, one Glock Model 20 Pistol, one Glock Model 26 Gen 4 Pistol, one Glock Model 30 Pistol, one Glock Model 34 Pistol, one Rugar AR-556 assault rifle and one Anderson Mfg. AM-15 assault rifle. The serial numbers from each of the Glock handguns were obliterated and unrecognizable.
The unlicensed sale and weapons transportation charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Brunni and Albertson is scheduled for Nov. 28, 2017 and Nov. 13, 2017, respectively.