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Wednesday, April 20, 2016
FBI: Man Gets 16 Years For Attempting To Purchase Ricin, Use of Stolen Identity Adds To Length of Sentence
The FBI released the below report:
It was a very scary scenario: Chinese national Cheng Le, living in New York City, attempted to order ricin through the so-called dark web.
Ricin, of course, is a highly potent and potentially fatal toxin with no known antidote. And the dark web includes a number of extensive, sophisticated, and widely used online criminal marketplaces that allow participants to buy and sell all kinds of illegal and often dangerous items, including drugs, firearms, and hazardous materials, like ricin.
What did Le plan to do with the ricin? Nothing good. According to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, “In Le’s own words, established at trial, he was looking for ‘simple and easy death pills’ and ways to commit ‘100 percent risk-free’ murder.”
While on a particular dark web marketplace in early December 2014, Le asked, “This might sound blunt but do you sell ricin?” Fortunately, the individual at the computer on the other end was not a trafficker in lethal poisons—instead, it was an undercover FBI employee.
For the next couple of weeks or so, Le and the undercover employee exchanged more than 20 encrypted messages. Some of Le’s communications included:
“If [the ricin’s] good quality, I’ve already had buyers lining up.”
“Does ricin have an antidote? Last I check there isn’t one, isn’t it?”
“The client would like to know...if it is wise to use ricin on someone who is hospitalized...Injection will leave needle holes on the body which could be found in regular forensic examinations. But hospitalized people already have needles in them so it wouldn’t be suspicious...”
“I’ll be trying out new methods in the future. After all, it is death itself we’re selling here, and the more risk-free, the more efficient we can make it, the better.”
“Also, besides that one bottle of pills with one poisonous pill in there, can you send some extra loose powder/liquid ricin? I’d like to test something.”
Sometime during these exchanges, Le revealed to the undercover employee that he had a specific victim in mind: “Someone middle-aged. Weight around 200 pounds.”
Ultimately, Le placed his order, paying with bitcoins, a virtual currency. Bitcoins themselves are not illegal and have known legitimate uses. However, they are also a common form of payment for illegal goods and services on the dark web because of the anonymity they provide.
On December 18, 2014, Le directed his contact to send a quantity of ricin to a rented postal box at a Manhattan shipping store (investigators later determined that Le had rented the postal box using the name of an individual whose identity he had stolen).
The phony pill sent to Le glows under ultraviolet light, just as real ricin would.
The Bureau prepared a mock shipment exactly as Le had requested—with one small difference: the “ricin pill” concealed in a pill bottle and the loose “ricin powder” were fake. And on December 23, the sham shipment was delivered to the requested postal box. Le, wearing latex gloves, retrieved the package, opened it, and took it to his apartment. Agents, armed with a search warrant, entered the apartment, collected the evidence, and arrested Le.
Le was tried by a federal jury and convicted in August 2015 of, among other things, attempting to possess a biological toxin for use as a weapon and aggravated identity theft in relation to a terrorism offense. Last month, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison, a term that had been enhanced by the aggravated identity theft charge.
And as a result of yet another successful joint law enforcement investigation—this one by the FBI, New York Police Department, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service—a criminal who posed a deadly threat to the public is behind bars.
Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime. He has written extensively about organized crime, cyber crime, street crime, white collar crime, crime fiction, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. His 'On Crime' column appears in the Washington Times and his 'Crime Beat' column appears in Philadelphia Weekly. He is also a regular contributor to Counterterrorism magazine and writes their online "Threatcon" column. Paul Davis' crime fiction appears in American Crime Magazine. His work has also appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and other publications. As a writer, he has attended police academy training, gone out on patrol with police officers, accompanied detectives as they worked cases, accompanied narcotics officers on drug raids, observed criminal court proceedings, visited jails and prisons, and covered street riots, mob wars and murder investigations. He has interviewed police commissioners and chiefs, FBI, DEA, HSI and other federal special agents, prosecutors, public officials, WWII UDT frogmen, Navy SEALs, Army Delta operators, Israeli commandos, military intelligence officers, Scotland Yard detectives, CIA officers, former KGB officers, journalists, novelists and true crime authors, gamblers, outlaw bikers, and Cosa Nostra organized crime bosses. Paul Davis has been a student of crime since he was an aspiring writer growing up in South Philadelphia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 in 1970. He served aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War and he later served two years aboard the Navy harbor tugboat U.S.S. Saugus at the U.S. floating nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland. He went on to do security work as a Defense Department civilian while working part-time as a freelance writer. From 1991 to 2005 he was a producer and on-air host of "Inside Government," a public affairs interview radio program that aired Sundays on WPEN AM and WMGK FM in the Philadelphia area. You can read Paul Davis' crime columns, crime fiction, book reviews and news and feature articles on this website. You can read his full bio by clicking on the above photo. And you can contact Paul Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org