Chinese national Cheng Le, who was living in New York City, attempted to order ricin through the dark net. Ricin is a highly potent and potentially fatal toxin with no known antidote. 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% risk free murder.”
On a particular dark net marketplace in early December 2014, Le asked, “This might sound blunt but do you sell ricin?” Unknown to Le, the person he was messaging wasn’t a lethal poison dealer, he was in fact and under cover FBI agent. Over the next couple weeks Le and the under cover agent exchanged more than 20 encrypted messages. Some of Le’s messages included:
“If the ricin is good quality, I’ve already had buyers lining up.”
“Does ricin have an antidote? Last I checked 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.”
During these exchanges of messages, Le revealed to the undercover agent that he had a specific victim in mind, “Someone middle aged, weighing around 200 pounds.” Ultimately, Le placed his order, paying in Bitcoin.
On December 18th, 2014, Le directed his contact to send a quantity of ricin to a rented postal box at a large Manhattan shipping store. Investigators later determined Le had rented the P.O. box using the name of an individual whose identity he had stolen.
The FBI 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. On December 23rd, the fake shipment was delivered to the requested P.O. box. Le was using latex gloves, retrieved the package, opened it, and took it to his apartment. Agents executed a search warrant, entered his apartment, collected the evidence, and Le was arrested.
Le was tried by a federal jury and convicted in august 2015, 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. As a result of yet another successful joint law enforcement investigation, this the 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.