A United States District Judge sentenced Bryant Riyanto Budi of Matthews, North Carolina, to 78 months in prison for attempting to purchase radioactive material over the darkweb with intent to cause death. Budi had attempted to purchase a radioactive substance online to kill a an unnamed individual.
Budi attempted to purchase radioactive material from an undercover FBI employee on the darkweb. He also paid an undercover Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent to murder someone in Charlotte, North Carolina. He admitted in the conversation with the FBI employee that he had also paid yet another party to kill the target.
He found himself at the center of investigations from two independent federal law enforcement agencies after attempting to kill someone using resources and connections made through a darkweb market, further reinforcing the belief that very few legitimate weapons vendors exist on the darkweb.
Nearly all the stories about murder-for-hire that involve the darkweb end in arrest.
According to the criminal complaint, Budi first made contact with an an HSI undercover agent (UCA) on an undisclosed hidden service in April 2018. HSI Special Agent Christopher Nasca wrote that “disclosure of the name of the site would potentially alert users to the fact that law enforcement action is being taken against the site, potentially provoking users to notify other users of law enforcement action, flee, and/or destroy evidence.” SA Nasca described the market as a “marketplace and forum” where users could create listings for “illegal products, including drugs, counterfeit goods, and weapons.”
The court documents revealed very little information about the case. SA Nasca, in the criminal complaint, clarified that certain details could compromise ongoing investigations. Given that very few platforms exist on the darkweb that allow the sale of radioactive substances and murder-for-hire services, identification of the platform would likely be a trivial task. It is not unusual for law enforcement to redact the name of darkweb marketplaces in certain investigations.
Murder for Hire
Budi, thinking he had identified a legitimate vendor on the platform, unknowingly reached out to an HSI agent in Buffalo, New York. He asked, “do you know someone who is a hitman? and able to do a quick job in US?” The UCA told Budi that he had a contact who could provide Budi with the services he had requested but could not personally provide assistance. The excerpt of the transcript between the UCA and Budi indicated that the UCA had set up an account as a weapons vendor of some sort. “That type of business is not for me. If you need weapons send me a message otherwise I am out,” the UCA wrote in one message to Budi.
The UCA provided Budi with an email address controlled by the UCA under a separate identity. Budi thanked the UCA for his assistance and plainly stated his intent to harm or kill another person. “My enemy that I am trying to get has been making my life a living hell and extorting me for a year now. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. I appreciate helping me out.” Budi then sent an email to the email address provided by the UCA.
Below is an example of some of the messages Budi and the UCA exchanged. The examples below are quoted directly from court documents and appear as they appeared in said documents.
UCA: Who gave you my email address? What is the job? Where is the job?
BUDI: first of all I want to consult with you first. this isnt a definite hire, i want to see if i can trust you and vice versa based on your response. one guy, he is a no body and doesn’t have any fighting skills or training. just make it look like a robbery gone wrong and finish him. it’s in the eastern part of the US …
BUDI: first, I am still doubting because i have been scammed before. so how do i know that you are the real deal? and wouldnt scammed me?
UCA: I don’t need your business. Best of luck.
BUDI: why are you all offended like that? the previous person I hired didnt do the job and left with my money, so i am just making sure that I am not getting into the same hole again.
BUDI: I know that I am being difficult, but I am just looking out for myself. like i said before, the other guy I have hired left without doing his job…. here is the detail of the job and let me know what you think. or at least reconsider he is 30 years old lives in apt in Charlotte, NC (i’ll tell you when you have agree) goes only to dollar tree and gas station (doesnt go anywhere) doesnt know fighting skill basically make it look like robbery went wrong. dont care what weapon you use, as long as you get it done.
UCA: I can’t give you prices or anything without details. Do you actually have funds to pay for this?
BUDI: I have 4k ready to go. cash… if we want to convert to btc [bitcoin], then it might be a few hundreds lower than 4k Can you we do payment step by step? for example: 1/3 (to get to town and show pic for proof), 1/3 (when you do it), 1/3 (when its done).
UCA: Yes we can do your 1/3 plan. But I would need 1/3 to start, 1/3 when I prove I’m in your town, 1/3 when the job is done. Price to be determined on the person.
BUDI: Name: [C.S.] | Age: ~ 30 Place: Charlotte, NC | pic: [internet link to a photograph of C.S.] | Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Budi, in May 2018, provided the UCA with a phone number and the two exchanged messages over SMS instead of the “encrypted email address” he had used in the beginning. Law enforcement investigated the number provided by Budi learned that it led directly to Budi's identity. The IP address associated with the use of the Google Voice number resolved to a Holiday Inn located in Santa Barbara, California. Law enforcement found travel records confirming that Budi had traveled to California and stayed at the hotel on May 22 and May 23.
On May 30, the UCA let Budi know that he had arrived in Charlotte and that he had located the target's apartment complex. The UCA agreed to take a picture of his gun outside the building and again inside the apartment after completing the job. During the investigation, law enforcement learned that Budi had also been living at the same apartment complex as the target. Evidence points towards a roommate or landlord as the target of Budi's actions, based on Budi's access to the target and the type of relationship Budi described.
Budi, the next day, asked “hey, haven’t heardback from you since yesterday. Is everything ok?” The UCA responded, essentially concluding the Homeland Security Investigations Episode of Budi's story:“Yes. The photos you requested were sent to your phone. Just like we talked about. I think it’s very clear, I have done what I said I would do. Now its up to you to uphold your part. Stop stalling and wasting my time and check your phone.” Budi sent the final two payments of $500 in cryptocurrency and another $300 in cryptocurrency.
The Radioactive Material
In April, Budi had reached out to another weapons vendor on the marketplace described in the previous section. Using the same marketplace account he had used to search for murder-for-hire services, Budi messaged an FBI OCE about obtaining a radioactive substance. He volunteered information about his plans for the radioactive substance. He also passed along an encrypted email address for communication off the marketplace. Law enforcement later learned that Budi had given both the HSI UCA and FBI OCE the same email addresses.
In the criminal complaint, SA Nasca wrote that the “specific radioactive substance is primarily created in nuclear reactors, is highly-toxic, and will likely cause death if ingested in small amounts.” He left the name of the material out of the document. Very few vendors likely offer such a product. Identification could compromise an ongoing investigation. However, the number of toxic substances created in nuclear reactors that could cause death in mere weeks while being stable enough to feasibly transport is fairly low. Caesium-137 is a possible option; undercover law enforcement officers have set up fake listings for the product in the past.
After asking about purchasing a radioactive substance, Budi followed up with a similar question. “Do you sell ricin as well? basically I want to use it for you know …. how much is a lethal dosage? and how do I know that you have is radioactive not some water solution? I am in US, how fast is the shipping?” Later that day Budi asked, “how long would it take for a person to die if he/she ingest that? how much could I get for $500?
“i tried to poison him with something else, but it tasted bitter as soon as he took a swig at it so he threw up. […] how would i know the affect would happen in 2 weeks? will it show in body autopsy?”
“whats the lethal dosage for a 250 pound man? i want to see if i can put on multiple food. can you put the money in the escrow until he dies? can you make 4ml of the dosage for $800?”
The OCE replied, “yes, i will make u 4ml for 800$.” On May 30, Budi provided the OCE with an address in Charlotte, North Carolina, where someone had agreed to receive packages of mail for Budi. On May 22, Budi reminded the OCE that they had agreed upon the sale of a lethal dose for $800. Budi paid the OCE $400 up front and said he would send another payment of $400 once he had killed the target. The OCE provided Budi with the tracking number of an international package containing an inert version of Budi's order.
Law enforcement met with the person living at the address Budi had given the OCE. The person, identified only as a cooperating witness, positively identified Budi and said that he had agreed to receive Budi's mail but knew nothing of the contents of the incoming package. The CW told law enforcement that Budi had left town and needed someone to hold his mail until he returned. Text messages between Budi and the CW indicated Budi had traveled to California.
In early June, Budi returned from California and retrieved the package from his friend. Law enforcement placed Budi in custody shortly after he had retrieved the package. They charged him one count of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire and placed him in Mecklenburg County Jail.
On June 21, U.S. Attorney Murray announced that a grand jury had indicted Budi for attempted possession of radioactive material with intent to cause death and use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. In the announcement, the U.S. Attorney thanked HSI in Buffalo, New York and Charlotte; the FBI in Charlotte and supporting FBI field offices; the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.
In December 2019, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr., after accepting Budi's guilty plea, sentenced Budi to 78 months in federal prison followed by another two years of supervised release. Budi had pleaded guilty to one count of attempted possession of radioactive material with intent to cause death and one count of the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.