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Utah Woman Admits Buying a Biological Agent on the Darkweb

A woman from Utah admitted purchasing a biological agent on the darkweb. According to investigators, the defendant had purchased biological agents in the past and had used them on her roommate.

Janie Lynn Ridd, 50, of Salt Lake City, Utah, pleaded guilty to:

  • attempted abuse of a vulnerable adult;
  • attempted possession or use of a weapon of mass destruction

According to prosecutors, Ridd had attempted to purchase Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) from a vendor on an undisclosed onion service in late 2019. Ridd told the vendor she worked as a biology teacher at a college preparatory school in Utah and needed VRSA for an antibiotic resistance experiment. The vendor—an undercover FBI agent working in a different state—told Ridd that she could easily obtain VRSA from legitimate sources online. Ridd insisted she wanted to purchase VRSA from the vendor and on December 12, 2019, paid the vendor $300 for an undisclosed amount of VRSA. She provided the vendor with her home address.

On December 17, 2019, undercover law enforcement officers delivered the package to Ridd’s mailbox. They watched the house until Ridd removed the package on December 18 and took the package to her place of employment.

The investigators later contacted her and brought her in for questioning. Ridd first told investigators she had purchased coffee from a seller on the internet. She later changed her story, claiming the package carried a biological agent from a darkweb vendor. She had planned to use the agent to make beer in the basement of her house. Later, Ridd told investigators she had ordered the “staph” from the darkweb to use in an experiment that would help her understand her roommate’s bacterial infection.

Law enforcement then executed a search at Ridd’s residence. They learned Ridd lived with a roommate and her roommate’s son. The roommate told the police that her relationship with Ridd had turned hostile. The hostility reportedly stemmed from a fight over the custody of the roommate’s son. Ridd, who had been friends with the roommate for 25 years, gained custody of the son after one of the roommate’s hospitalizations.

Investigators learned that one of the roommate’s surgeries resulted in suspicious infections. According to the roommate’s surgeon, a bacterial injection into the wound had caused the infections. During the inquiries into the roommate’s health, investigators also learned that the roommate had been hospitalized twice for dangerously high blood sugar levels. The roommate had never used insulin or had diabetes. Ridd, though, had purchased insulin from a darkweb vendor in 2019.

On August 25, 2020, Ridd pleaded guilty to the charges listed above. Prosecutors recommended the court sentence Ridd to a maximum of five years in prison on the aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult change and up to 15 years on the biological agent charge.

Judge Kara Pettit ordered Ridd to serve a sentence of between one and 15 years in prison for attempted possession or use of a weapon of mass destruction and up to five years for attempted aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult. Prosecutors dropped the aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult charge.