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How much harm or profitable businesses can a canny inmate-run on the outside while still tightly locked up in jail? Or better perhaps, what can he not do?
People present at Columbia Court this week were brought to a shocking realization of just how much an inmate can do in possession of a contraband cell phone. As the proceedings progressed, it was shown that Michael Young was able to access the dark web from where he led a drug trafficking business successfully. Young, a 32-year-old convict incarcerated for murder, also had a scheme to mail an explosive which was thwarted when detectives caught wind of his plans. Among the witnesses testifying in court concerning the case were FBI agents. As the bomb expert agents assigned to domestic terrorism cases took to the stands, one thing was clear. It isn’t difficult for a convict to harm people on the outside of the prison, even while still held in prison. All that Young needed to make his plans possible was a mobile device with internet connection.
From February of 2017, all the way to June of the same year, about 40 agents ran the operation that nabbed Young. Split into four teams of eight personnel each, the agents kept surveillance on Young. Under the code name “Operation Boom Box”, they tracked other people involved with Young within the vicinity of Columbia.
This case is helping shed light on the expanse of harm that illegal cell phones in prisons can be used for. The hearing is making the matter ever clearer than before. This is a much welcomed point of argument after the fatal chaos that erupted at Lee Correctional Institution. Authorities put the blame partly on the availability of these illegal gadgets in state-run prisons.
Young’s plan was to mail a bomb to Shauna Clark, his former wife. Considering that he was sentenced to 50 years behind bars for the murder of Clark’s father it would explain his intentions. Still, Young was looking for a reversal of his fate which meant should he have another hearing, Clark would most definitely feature among the key witnesses. So when the officers broke into his operation without his knowledge, they played along with it. It worked perfectly because Young thought that he was actually mailing a bomb to Florida, specifically to Clark’s address.
In an encrypted mail Young sent to an arms dealer, or at least Young thought he was, the detectives had their breakthrough with the case. “I wonder if…it is possible to plant a bomb in a box. One that would blow up upon the recipient opening the package,” inquired Young in March 2017. All this happened in the confines of the dark web.
With the hideout provided by anonymity on the Darknet, criminals have made it their area of business. All kinds of dealings, from drug peddling to assassin services, occur under the cover of the Dark Web. Though some legitimate businesses are run there, it can be said with certainty that the majority are outlawed activities.
Young thought he had stumbled upon an arms dealer, little did he know it was the complete opposite. “Marcus”, was his alias, and was the guy at the other end of the line. His work was to camp out on the Dark Web, disguised as another of the users dealing in suspicious trades. His aim and that of his other accomplices as undercover agents was to hopefully apprehend criminals hiding in the Dark Web.
“Marcus”, constantly referred to by his alias, was among those who stood to testify in court. According to the FBI, “he cannot be identified by his real name for it will comprise him and put him in danger.” “Marcus” carried on the conversation with Young, faking a stream of statements in broken English to avoid raising Young’s suspicions. Eventually, the two men agreed to a price tag for the merchandise which Young settled in Bitcoin.
Further evidence revealed Young’s proficiency in several internet tricks and tools. Together with access to digital currency, he possessed an illegal credit card. According to evidence arraigned in court, the card was for buying items he wanted. That is not all. Young, as testimony made the court aware was a guru in methodologies to hide identity and maintain privacy in the online space. He knew how to send emails whose message vanished once it was read.
“Marcus” received two addresses from Young in May 2017. Both addresses were for accomplices in the entire saga. One was to receive the bomb and the other was to be the recipient of Clark’s address. While the officers played along with Young’s plan, they had to alter the bomb. Instead of a real bomb, they made one that would not explode. That eliminated any danger of harm to anyone that would fall along its path to its Florida destination.
By June, the FBI was rounding up all the accomplices working with Young in the operation. First was the recipient of the bomb. The bomb’s first destination was an address belonging to a 17-year-old from where it would find its way to the post office at Irmo by another suspect.
In total, three other suspects were apprehended; Tyrell Fears, Vincent Meredith and Vance Volious. Meredith’s confession brought to light Young’s drug trafficking business. According to the testimony given by Meredith, he would receive a monthly parcel of Marijuana from California courtesy of Young which he would deliver to others. The marijuana was delivered to him in 2 boxes each weighing about three pounds. He confirmed Volious’ involvement in the drug trade.
Both Young and Volious this week are answering to the charges of drug peddling and mailing explosives. Volious’ representative, Aimee Zymroczek argued her client’s innocence on the charges of participating in mailing a bomb. She cited ignorance saying her client was not aware of the scheme. She did not, however, argue against the evidence pinned on him for drug trafficking.
On the other hand, Young through his attorney admitted being guilty of the charges presented against him. William Hodge, his attorney spoke to clear Volious from the accusations of bomb mailing saying he was a participant without knowledge concerning the matter.
Thursday saw the federal prosecutors present their case to the jury and before Judge Michelle Childs. The case should come to a close on Friday.