A Florida man who allegedly sold poison to an undercover agent and said it was capable of killing someone within two days made his first court appearance in New Jersey on Tuesday to face charges that could put him in prison for life.
Jesse Korff appeared in U.S. District Court shackled and in a prison jumpsuit. He didn't enter a plea during the brief proceeding and remained held without bail. His federal public defender said Korff had agreed to detention rather than seek to have bail set.
The 19-year-old LaBelle, Fla. resident was arrested last month in his home state and charged with smuggling and possessing a toxin, abrin, for use as a weapon. The possession count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Abrin is found in the seeds of the tropical rosary pea plant and is similar to ricin, a poison that comes from castor beans. Abrin is used in medical research because of its potential to kill cancer cells, but it also is a deadly poison for which there is no antidote, according to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Abrin can be extracted relatively easily from the plant seeds and doesn't require technical expertise, according to the affidavit. It can be ingested in pill or liquid form or inhaled. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, followed by dehydration and, possibly, respiratory and organ failure and death, according to the CDC.
According to the arrest affidavit, Department of Homeland Security investigators found Korff last year on an underground website, Black Market Reloaded, which specializes in the sale of goods including biological agents, weapons, explosives and counterfeit merchandise. An undercover agent engaged Korff in discussions about buying abrin to smuggle through New Jersey to Canada, according to the affidavit.
In one email exchange, Korff allegedly told the agent, "I guarantee it will work ... if you drop the abrin in someone's drink Wednesday he will be dead Friday and there is no way to trace it after 24 hours of ingestion."
Undercover agents allegedly found two candles left last month by Korff at a rest stop outside Fort Myers that contained vials of liquid that tested positive for abrin.