In late September, a U.S. District Judge in California sentenced a darkweb firearm supplier to five years in prison for unlawfully dealing and manufacturing firearms. The gun dealer signed a plea agreement in June that dropped a second firearm charge in exchange for the plea.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. sentenced Michael Paul Grisham Smith, 44, to five years in prison in connection with a Homeland Security Investigations case that targeted darkweb gun traffickers between 2017 and 2018. According to court documents filed by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Aron Mann, Smith regularly contacted entities on darkweb marketplaces and forums in search of someone looking to buy a steady supply of semi-automatic rifles or trade rifles for various explosives. At one point in the Homeland Security Investigations case, Smith contacted an undercover Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent and attempted to arrange firearm transactions.
“Hello, I am BrotherBig and I understand you are in the market for some trades,” Smith wrote in an introductory email to the undercover Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent that he sent from a Protonmail email address. Smith explained that he had learned that the Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent sold firearms on the darkweb and asked if the (undercover) agent could provide a listing of what firearms and explosives the agent sold on the darkweb. Without hesitation, Smith—who wrote the agent under the name BrotherBig—explained that he loved firearms and had finished “many” 80% builds for himself and for others.
After the undercover agent expressed his interest in purchasing some completed builds, Smith asked if the agent could trade with any fragment grenades, incendiary grenades, “or any other anti-personnel [explosives], claymores, or C4.” The agent declined the requests for any exchange outside of Bitcoin for the rifles. Smith wanted to conduct business through drops so that he could keep his identity private. The agent declined, explaining that he would have no way to confirm that Smith actually dropped off the guns before sending payment.
Since the agent worked relatively close to where Smith lived, Smith agreed to meet the agent locally for the first transaction. They agreed to meet in a parking lot and exchange four semi-automatic rifles for $4,200 in Bitcoin. Half up front and half upon delivery. Smith gave the agent a Bitcoin address and explained that he used Coinbase. The undercover special agent searched Smith’s PGP on a public keyserver and found a second email address that belonged to Smith. He sent the email addresses to Coinbase and requested any accounts associated with the email addresses he found.
Homeland Security Investigations identified the account owner through Coinbase records and later through the license plate on Smith’s car at the first meeting. After several similar meetings where Smith exchanged completed firearms for Bitcoin, federal law enforcement officers raided the Smith house, seized several guns and associated items, and arrested Smith for unlawful dealing and manufacturing firearms and unlawful possession of unregistered firearms.
In June, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of California announced that Smith pleaded guilty to the unlawful dealing and manufacturing firearms charge in exchange for a maximum sentence of five years. The prosecution dropped the second charge and did not pursue charges in connection with Smith’s probation; while Homeland Security Investigations was investigating Smith, he and his wife landed in police custody for shooting a protected deer out of the bed of his truck. Smith also robbed a house. The court sentenced Smith to probation then and, as a result, he lost the ability to own firearms.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations was credited for successfully collecting enough evidence for a conviction.