The Carmichael man arrested last month on weapons and explosives charges was involved in a shadowy nationwide network that uses encrypted websites, code names and payments in bitcoins to ship deadly poisons to buyers, according to federal court documents.
James Christopher Malcolm, 29, was arrested on May 5 and faces arraignment Thursday in Sacramento on weapons and explosives charges.
But federal court documents unsealed in San Francisco late Friday tie Malcolm to the Bay Area investigation of former political consultant Ryan Kelly Chamberlain II, who was arrested last week after the FBI suspected he possessed a homemade improvised explosive device. The documents indicate Malcolm shipped samples of a lethal toxin to Chamberlain’s Polk Street apartment on Dec. 5 that “would be enough to constitute (conservatively) hundreds of lethal doses of the toxin if metabolized in the human body.”
Malcolm told FBI agents that he shipped the poison to a “Ryan Kelly” from a UPS store in Vacaville after negotiating online with a buyer who indicated he was seeking the material to “ease the suffering of cancer patients,” federal court documents state.
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Malcolm is not named in the documents unsealed Friday, but is referred to as “Witness 2” and described as a Sacramento man arrested May 5 on four firearms and explosives charges, details that match the Malcolm case.
Malcolm’s assistant federal defender, Benjamin Galloway, confirmed Saturday that his client is the subject described in the court documents, but denied an assertion in the documents that Malcolm “has agreed to enter a plea in federal court to a violation” of federal law prohibiting possession of biological weapons.
“That is untrue,” Galloway said of a possible plea. “I spoke to the prosecutor and he said he was also surprised to see that.”
The arrests stem from a joint investigation by the FBI, Homeland Security agents and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that began in April 2013 and focused on a website known as “Black Market Reloaded,” or BMR, according to an FBI affidavit in support of a search warrant for Chamberlain’s San Francisco apartment.
“The basic user interface of BMR resembles those of other well-known online marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon.com,” the affidavit states.
However, the site is accessible only though a network known as “Tor” that is designed to conceal the Internet protocol addresses of computers using it, the affidavit states, adding that such networks are known as “Darknets” or “the Deepweb.”
The BMR site uses bitcoins as its primary form of payment, allowing anonymity to customers, the affidavit states, and a tip that came into authorities in February prompted the investigation that led to the probe of BMR and its users.
That tip came from a New York resident identified as “Witness 1,” who told New York City police that he purchased the poisons cyanide and abrin on the BMR site as part of an attempt at suicide, the affidavit states.
The witness showed up at the NYPD’s 49th precinct with a vial of white powder that later tested positive as cyanide, the affidavit states. The witness told officers he had destroyed the abrin, a poison extracted from the seeds of the rosary pea plant, the affidavit states.
Investigators following that lead found the poisons had been shipped on Dec. 5, 2013, to New York from a Vacaville UPS store, the court documents state. Records at that store indicated that the same person who mailed the poisons to the New York customer also shipped a package to a “Ryan Kelly” at Chamberlain’s address, the court documents say.
Federal investigators then tied both shipments to a BMR vendor who advertised “the production, testing, and sale of biological toxins, improvised explosives and firearms via BMR,” the affidavit states, adding that investigators determined the vendor was “Witness 2,” or Malcolm.
Malcolm was arrested May 5 after a two-month undercover investigation. Agents rushed their decision to move in after they feared he had discovered a GPS tracking device they had placed on his 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer, court documents indicate. Agents cited dangers to “the public and neighbors in the area” of his Garfield Avenue home and storage lockers he rented.
He has been held at the Sacramento County jail since then without bail and was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday on four counts of suspicion of illegally possessing a machine gun and selling weapons and explosives.
The FBI affidavit filed in San Francisco says that items seized from Malcolm after his arrest tested positive for abrin and that Malcolm told investigators he used the BMR site “to sell biological toxins, improvised explosives and firearms to purchasers throughout the United States.”
He also admitted to shipping the packages to the customer in New York and to “Ryan Kelly” in San Francisco, the affidavit says.
Malcolm told investigators the San Francisco shipment was made after he was contacted by a buyer who wanted information on abrin to help ease cancer patients’ suffering, the court documents say.
He told investigators the buyer’s statements about helping cancer patients concerned him and that instead of shipping pure abrin, he sent two clear vials of “ground rosary peas, which were ground finely enough to become aerosolized,” the affidavit states. The vials were loaded into two small Harbor Freight flashlights that had their batteries removed, then placed in a manila envelope with bubble wrap inside, the court documents say.
The shipment arrived Dec. 6, but some time after that the San Francisco buyer complained to Malcolm via Bitmail – a secure email service that uses random strings of numbers instead of names –“that the abrin did not work,” the affidavit states.
The investigation into the BMR site led to the Jan. 18 arrest of a Florida man identified as “Witness 3,” and that individual later told investigators that his first customer on the BMR site was named “Ryan Kelly.”
Chamberlain was arrested near Crissy Field last Monday after the FBI announced a nationwide manhunt for him, and is in custody in San Francisco pending a June 16 hearing. At a hearing Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins ordered a mental assessment of Chamberlain.