A North Carolina man admitted to ordering a radioactive substance from an undercover federal agent on the dark web, a recent statement from a United States Attorney revealed. The plea deal revealed that the defendant had planned to kill someone with the radioactive substance.
Bryant Budi, 27, admitted in a plea agreement that he had attempted to possess a radioactive substance for the purpose of causing harm or death. United States Attorney Andrew Murray declared that U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer had accepted the plea agreement at hearing in early December. The plea agreement dropped the charge that led to Budi’s arrest earlier this year: a single count of using “interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.” Murder-for-hire was the initial reason federal agents launched an investigation into Budi. The attempted purchase of a radioactive substance came afterwards.
Budi caught the attention of a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in early 2018 after he had reached out to a vendor on an undisclosed dark web site in an attempt to find someone with connections to a hitman. According to court documents, HSI Special Agent Christopher Nasca had been posing as a dark web vendor of potentially lethal wares when someone messaged him about a hitman. Special Agent Christopher Nasca told the person, later identified as Budi, that he had the type of connections Budi had asked about. The Special Agent told Budi that his contact would need to email Budi instead of message through a hidden service’s messaging feature.
The Special Agent, posing as the vendor’s contact, emailed Budi regarding the murder-for-hire questions. Budi and the undercover agent discussed the costs associated with the murder of someone in Charlotte, North Carolina. The target was Budi’s so-called “enemy.” Budi gave Special Agent Nasca the details needed to identify and kill this “enemy.” After agreeing on a price, the undercover agent flew from his office in New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. Still posing as a hitman, Special Agent Nasca convinced Budi to switch from using email to using SMS when discussing the murder. Budi wanted pictures of the man’s gun and pictures of the “hitman” outside of the target’s house. Special Agent Nasca complied with all of Budi’s requests except for the homicide itself.
While in Charlotte, an undercover FBI agent reached out to Special Agent Nasca about someone from North Carolina who had inquired about purchasing a lethal dose of a radioactive material. For various reasons, law enforcement chose not to reveal the specific substance. They also redacted the name of the dark web market or forum where Budi had contacted both the Homeland Security Special Agent and the Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent. The criminal complaint referred to the site as “Website A.” Knowledge of the radioactive material “sold” by the undercover FBI agent would compromise the federal agent’s account on the market. Very few vendors sell radioactive materials and similar toxic substances.
The FBI agent contacted Special Agent Nasca about Budi’s request for a radioactive substance. Budi had very clearly explained that he needed the material to kill his “enemy.” He asked the undercover agent to make him a mixture of the substance that could kill someone with the weight and height of the person targeted by the “hitman.” Based on the descriptions Budi had provided, the federal agents concluded that Budi wanted to radioactive substance to kill the same person he had hired the hitman to kill. At some point in the conversation with the undercover FBI agent, Budi revealed that he had learned that the hitman had scammed him.
Homeland Security Investigations learned that Budi had been using a Google Voice number to communicate with Special Agent Nasca. They traced the I.P. Address associated with the number to an address where Budi had been staying. Later, after Budi had ordered the radioactive substance, he had the undercover FBI agent ship the package to the address of one of his friends from college. Federal law enforcement mailed an inert substance to the address and then showed up at the address after the package had arrived. The person who had been living at the address told Homeland Security Investigations that Budi had asked him to receive the package for him. Budi had told him that he would be picking the package up in a couple of days.
Law enforcement waited for Budi to pick the package up from his friend and arrested him once he had arrived. The attempted possession of radioactive material charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The Attorney did not announce a sentencing date.