Indiana men used ‘dark net’ to bring illegal weapons to NJ, feds say
Two men from Indiana have admitted to their role in selling more than $7,000 in illegal arms to undercover agents and bringing them to New Jersey, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Benjamin Donald Brunni, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of transporting and selling firearms without a license less than two weeks after co-defendant Nicholas Michael Albertson, 20, pleaded guilty to the same charges, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said Thursday.
Fitzpatrick said the arrests were part of a larger investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security into illegal activity on the "dark net" since 2013. The men had negotiated to sell what Fitzpatrick called "an arsenal of assault rifles and untraceable handguns."
He said the sale and delivery was arranged through "a brief series of online communications."
"This case highlights the danger posed by dark net marketplaces that offer one-stop anonymous shopping for criminal services," Fitzpatrick said.
According to Fitzpatrick, the investigation leading to the arrest of the two men centered around the web platform Alphabay, where, in addition to firearms, other illegal items like drugs, ammunition, explosives and counterfeit items were being sold.
Users of the platform were able to buy and sell items while hiding their names and locations. Fitzpatrick said that while the network people accessed the platform was used for some legitimate purposes, it was also used by cybercriminals.
Investigators determined Brunni used Alphabay with the intention of buying and selling weapons and ammunition, according to Fitzpatrick. Brunni negotiated with the undercover officer for around a month, believing he was working with an international arms dealer.
Brunni agreed to sell the officer 10 guns, including semi-automatic handguns with "obliterated" serial numbers and two semi-automatic rifles. Brunni also agreed to bring the weapons to New Jersey as part of the deal. Brunni and Albertson were arrested on Sept. 9, 2016, when they arrived at a truck stop in Phillipsburg, where they were found with a cache of weapons.
"This guilty plea serves as a stern warning about the consequences awaiting arms dealers who think the dark net is a safe haven to conduct illegal activities," said Debra Parker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations in Newark.
Parker said her department will "continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold criminals who use anonymous internet software for illegal activities accountable for their actions."
Fitzpatrick said the charge the two pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The two men are scheduled for separate sentencing dates in November.
In a separate weapons case, Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park recently announced two men from South Carolina have been charged for their roles in trying to sell guns in Rahway.
Luther Garner, 50, was arrested in Rahway, while Samuel McKenith, 59, was arrested in South Carolina. At the time of his arrest, Garner was found with with three handguns, a revolver, and a 30-round magazine, prosecutors said.
The pair were charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, second-degree certain persons not to have weapons, and fourth-degree possession of a high capacity magazine, as well as fourth-degree receiving property. McKenith was also charged with fourth-degree possession of hollow-point bullets.
Park encouraged anyone with information about the case to contact Detective Filipe Afonso at 908-603-7116.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com