A New Jersey man who admitted trading sexually explicit images with a minor took a different tack before pleading guilty: Looking to have the kid killed, he paid $20,000 in bitcoin to a bogus murder-for-hire site on the dark web, a federal indictment alleges.
John Michael Musbach, 31, was a free man, having been sentenced in February 2018 to a two-year suspended sentence with lifetime parole supervision for his exchanges with the then-13-year-old from upstate New York.
A year or so had passed when cybercrime sleuth Chris Monteiro tipped federal agents off to messages that Musbach exchanged two years earlier with a site known as Besa Mafia.
The site “operated on the dark net and purported to offer contract killings or other acts of violence in return for payment in cryptocurrency,” Acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Rachael A. Honig said Wednesday.
“If you want to kill someone … we are the right guys,” the site boasted. “We have professional hitmen available throughout the entire USA, Canada and Europe … Most of our gang members are drug dealers but they do contract killing when they are short on cash.”
Musbach reached out with a request in May 2016, authorities charged.
“The target would be 14,” the accused computer tech wrote, according to a complaint on file in U.S. District Court in Camden. “Is that an acceptable age or too young? I can budget up to $20K for the order.”
After paying roughly 40 bitcoin (roughly $20,000), Musbach “repeatedly messaged the website’s administrator following up on the hit and asking when it would occur,” Honig said.
“When pressed for an additional $5,000 to secure the hit, Musbach eventually sought to cancel and asked for a refund of his $20,000,” the U.S. attorney said.
He got this response, according to the complaint: "I am sorry to disappoint you. Unfortunately, our site is a scam, and we pass customer and target information to law enforcement.”
The website had been hacked, Musbach was told, and he had four days to send an additional 22 bitcoin or the hackers would contact police.
The site had actually been hacked by Montiero, the federal tipster.
Thanks to him, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents linked Musbach to the same screen name that he used, authorities said.
Then they followed the cybermoney.
The creator of the now-defunct site not only swindled Musbach out of the money. Agents showed up at his Haddonfield home last August and arrested Musbach, who has remained in federal custody ever since.
On Wednesday, a federal grand jury in Camden returned an indictment charging him with murder for hire.
It all began when local authorities learned that Musbach had gotten the eventual teen target to exchange sexually explicit pictures and videos.
They arrested him in March 2016, after which Musbach pleaded guilty to child endangerment. He then received the two-year suspended sentence with parole supervision for life.
Musbach’s lawyer told a federal judge in Camden that his client had gone on to live a clean life, with a new job and relationship. His partner said he was aware of Musbach’s previous case but knew nothing about any contract killing.
Federal prosecutors, in turn, said HIS investigators learned that Musbach obsessively searched phrases such “where to buy chloroform,” “poisonous hemlock,” and “death by caffeine” before turning to Besa Mafia as he awaited his trial.
Authorities said they never found any killings tied to the site’s “customers,” although a Minnesota man was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife following failed attempts to at arranging a Besa Mafia hit.
The site’s creator, known only as “Yura,” has remained elusive. He reportedly lives in Eastern Europe and has spun off other scam sites on the dark web after hackers toppled Besa Mafia.
Honig credited HSI agents for the investigation and thanked the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office for its assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig is handling the case for the government.
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