A 44-year-old resident of Grass Valley, California has been found guilty of illegally manufacturing and distributing unregistered rifles on the dark web.
The man, Michael Smith, was arrested back in February after falling into the trap of an undercover agent working for Homeland Security Investigations.
Based on the case documents, Smith attempted to sell anti-personnel mines and grenades to the undercover agent.
The agent, who masqueraded as a firearms supplier, accepted to get into business with Smith, whose username on the dark web was “BrotherBig.”
However, the two made a deal to exchange eight AR-15-style unregistered short-barrel rifles for $8,800 in the form of Bitcoin.
The agent made two different negotiations, each for four guns. Following the agreement, Smith took 10 weeks to manufacture the guns, from December 1, 2017 and February 15, 2018.
He then suggested that he deliver the arms to the agent by geocaching them to an obscured area.
Nonetheless, the agent convinced Smith that it would be better to make an in-person delivery.
Smith used a prepaid cell phone to make plans for meeting his customer. They agreed to meet in Rocklin, California at a Bass Pro Shop parking lot.
Smith introduced himself using the alias Marcus.
The agent made an upfront payment of $2,000 worth of Bitcoin for the first sale. Later on, he received the remaining amount of $2,400.
Seeing how smoothly it went, Smith contacted the agent and expressed anticipation for the sale of the next batch.
Smith was particularly ecstatic that the “firearm vendor” was not a cop.
The success of the first sale convinced him that he was safe.
He made the first four firearms out of 80 percent polymer AR-lowers.
They each had 10.75-inch barrels. Federal agents assessed their functionality and found that they were all working.
They also confirmed that the rifles had no serial numbers.
Smith and the agent later arranged for the second trade. They maintained the initial plan on where to meet up.
Again, the agent first paid $2,000 upfront and made the second payment after receiving the rifles.
The second group of rifles was slightly different from the first. Three of them contained 80 percent lowers, while one was a product of a Stag Arms lower.
The federal agents also discovered that Smith had deleted the serial number on the rifle.
The agent planned to bust Smith by arranging for a third trade. This time, the order included five rifles.
For the fifth rifle, nonetheless, the undercover agent offered to pay using 3 M67 fragmentation grenades. Smith accepted the terms of the new deal.
The authorities arrested Smith during the third sale. They reported that they found him with the five rifles he intended to sell.
Furthermore, Smith was carrying a loaded Sig Sauer pistol.
The HSI also obtained a search warrant for Smith’s home. They retrieved a Colt revolver hidden under one of the pillows on his bed.
Smith also had a secret room hidden behind his bathroom mirror.
The room acted as a firearm assembly area as well as a store for his many guns.
The search also revealed that Smith was in possession of drugs.
Based on the plea he made in June, the drugs included methamphetamine, LSD and processed marijuana, which he had stored in buckets.
Smith appeared in federal court in Sacramento on two charges.
One charge was of the illegal possession of unregistered firearms, while the other was of the unlawful manufacture and dealing in firearms.
According to California law, it is lawful for individuals to manufacture weapons, although it is illegal to sell them.
Thus, Smith may have escaped the sentence had he not sold the rifles to the agent.
Based on the sentencing memos, U.S. Assistant Attorneys Justin Lee and Quinn Hochhalter suggested that Smith should receive a sentence of 51 months in prison.
Nevertheless, his lawyer pleaded that the court reduces his sentence to 46 months.
The lawyer argued that Michael Smith was a father of two children. He further said that Smith had previously worked as a tree trimmer, plumber and a drywall hanger and that he was eager to go back to work.
Despite the prosecution’s and defense’s arguments, Garland E. Burrell, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the case, gave Smith a 60-month sentence.
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