February 18, 2015

Florida Man Sentenced to 110 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Murder a Foreign National and for Sale and Smuggling of Deadly Toxins

WASHINGTON—Assistant Attorney General of National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey, Special Agent in Charge John P. Woods of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark, New Jersey, and Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel of the FBI’s Newark Division announced that a Florida man was sentenced today to 110 months in prison for producing and selling potentially deadly toxins ricin and abrin for use as weapons, and conspiring to kill a woman in the United Kingdom.

Jesse William Korff, 20, of Labelle, Florida, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan on Aug. 12, 2014, to an information charging him with 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.

Korff was arrested in Florida on Jan. 18, 2014, following a joint investigation by HSI and the FBI of Korff’s sales of toxins through an underground, Internet-based marketplace known as “Black Market Reloaded” (BMR).

“Jesse Korff peddled his poison in a shadowy, online network favored by cybercriminals,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “He also offered guidance on its effective use, and his sentence today appropriately took account of his participation with an overseas customer in an attempted murder plot. Fortunately, law enforcement was able to intercede before Korff could conclude his deadly transaction.”

“This sentence should serve as a warning to those who capitalize from the use of underground websites such as BMR,” said Special Agent in Charge Woods. “HSI will maintain its unrelenting commitment to protecting our land borders as well as virtual borders from individuals like Korff. Anyone who mistakenly thinks that they can get away with these types of crimes by hiding in the endless depths of the Internet must know that HSI will seek them out and bring them to justice.”

“Jesse Korff acquired abrin and ricin, potentially lethal toxins, through an underground Internet-based marketplace, so they could be used for deadly purposes,” said Special Agent in Charge Frankel. “Thankfully, with the coordinated efforts of our law enforcement partners, and the tactical and technical expertise of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, he was intercepted and his potentially deadly threats did not become a reality.”

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Beginning in April 2013, HSI special agents in Newark launched an investigation of illicit sales activity on BMR. The website provided 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.

From August 2013 through January 2014, Korff maintained a seller’s profile on BMR under the moniker “Snowman840.” Korff 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 so as to avoid suspicion by law enforcement officials. Korff sold various quantities of ricin and abrin to international purchasers located in India, Austria, Denmark and England. Korff smuggled the toxins from Florida to the international purchasers by concealing the toxins in packages sent through the U.S. Postal Service.

On at least one occasion in December 2013, Korff agreed to produce, and ultimately provided, a quantity of abrin to a purchaser in London who intended to poison and kill an individual she claimed was her mother. After the purchaser’s receipt and administration of the initial dose, which 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 undercover agent contacted Korff through BMR and commenced negotiations for the sale of two liquid doses of abrin. During their online conversations, Korff told the agent 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 agent that a victim’s poisoning symptoms would mimic a bad case of the flu, subsequently resulting in death. Korff claimed that the toxin would not ordinarily be detected in an autopsy.

Korff and the agent agreed on a total purchase price of $2,500 for two doses of the poison, which was intended to be smuggled from Florida, through New Jersey, en route to a destination in Canada. Korff designated a prearranged location for the transfer of the toxins, and e-mailed the agent pictures of a specific spot at a rest stop approximately 10 miles outside Fort Myers, Florida, where he planned to leave a package containing the abrin.

On the arranged day, Korff dropped off a fast food bag containing two wax candles at the location. Another undercover agent collected the bag and left behind the required payment. Law enforcement had Korff under surveillance throughout the transaction.

Subsequent forensic analysis by the FBI of the liquid contained within the vials revealed the presence of active abrin. Even a small dose of the toxin is potentially lethal to humans if ingested, inhaled or injected—causing death within 36 to 72 hours from the time of exposure.

Following Korff’s arrest, law enforcement agents conducted an exhaustive, three-day search of Korff’s property. As a result of those efforts, agents 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, as well as numerous firearms. Among the items recovered was the second liquid dose of abrin that Korff had intended to ship to the London purchaser. Significantly, information and evidence obtained by U.S. law enforcement agents in this case was shared with, and successfully used by, authorities in England, Denmark and Austria to disrupt related criminal activities in those nations.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson sentenced Korff to five years of supervised release and fined him $1,000.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joins U.S. Attorney Fishman in thanking the special agents of HSI offices in Newark and Ft. Myers, Florida, and the FBI offices in Newark and Tampa, Florida, for their efforts with the investigation that led to today’s sentence. He also thanked the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Glades County, Henry County and Lee County, Florida, sheriff’s offices for their assistance. Vital support was provided by the FBI WMD Directorate in Washington, D.C., the FBI Laboratory Division, the DHS National Bioforensic Analysis Center, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, and the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), SO15 Counter Terrorism Command, under the direction of Commander Duncan Ball.

The government is represented by Attorney Joseph N. Kaster of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Carletta of the District of New Jersey.