A Lexington man serving a 50-year prison sentence for murdering his ex-wife’s father has been named as the kingpin in an alleged plot to buy a bomb on the Internet and send it through the U.S. mail to kill his ex-wife.
The killer, Michael James Young Jr., 31, an inmate at the S.C. Department of Corrections’ maximum security Broad River facility, was caught by a secretive FBI sting operation on the Internet’s Dark Web, according to sources familiar with the case.
The bomb was designed to explode when the package was opened, and plotters knew it “was not going to be a box of flowers,” according to court records.
The Dark Web is the Internet’s digital underbelly, where users hoping to stay anonymous can frequent black market, child pornography and other sites. In the last year, news sites have reported that the FBI used the Dark Web in a nationwide child pornography sting operation that caught 200 people. As far as is known, this case is the first in South Carolina case where the FBI has used the Dark Web.
A spokesman for the Columbia FBI could not be reached. Sources did not know if the FBI originated the sting site or had simply hacked into an existing site where explosives could be ordered. “This should give evil people pause before they order illegal things off the Internet, because they might in fact be ordering from the government,” one source said.
“No comment, no comment,” assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis said when asked about the FBI sting operation and the Dark Web on Thursday. The State questioned Lewis following an arraignment hearing for Young and his two alleged co-conspirators, Vance “Dank” Volious Jr., 35, and Tyrell Fears, 18.
Charges against the three include conspiracy to send explosives through the mail with intent to kill.
Volious, who was working at a pizza store, is a longtime friend of Young’s. Fears is Young’s nephew, according to court records.
Volious and Fears, who live in the Columbia area, are being held without bond. Court records say another person, identified only as a minor whose initials are V.M., was involved in the plot. The status of any charges against V.M. was not available.
Court records describe a scheme that involved Young’s apparent easy access to telephones and a computer while in the maximum security prison for a 2007 high-profile killing at Columbiana Centre mall. In that incident, he gunned down his father-in-law, Robert Lynn Bell, who was trying to protect his daughter, Shaunna Bell.
At the time, Shauna Bell had told her father that her estranged husband was stalking her. To protect his daughter, Robert Bell was driving her to and from her job at the mall, where she sold computers. Young ambushed them in the parking lot, wounding her and killing her father. He pleaded guilty in 2011.
Young’s latest motive for wanting to kill his ex-wife is that she could be a witness against him if he were to win a new trial, according to a transcript of a June 15 hearing in federal court.
At that hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said Bell, who now has another last name, “is a witness in Mr. Young’s trial, a trial that Mr. Young continues to try to get overturned,” according to the transcript.
At that hearing, federal public defender James Rogers tried to find out how the FBI learned of the bomb plot. But Richardson, who had told Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges the case had sensitive matters still under seal, succeeded in keeping that information secret, according to the transcript.
Court records give the prosecution’s version of the case:
In February, Young sent Volious via Facebook Messenger a link to a Wikipedia article on a Russian grenade called the F1, a throwable anti-personnel bomb that has been used in numerous wars since World War II.
On June 5, the minor, V.M., received a package from the U.S. Postal Service containing the bomb, or a device that qualified as illegal explosives under federal law. Using a fictitious name, V.M. signed for the package, which also contained instructions on how to arm and activate the bomb.
V.M. then telephoned Young, who called Fears and then Volious, according to court records. Later that day, a package containing shipping labels with Young’s ex-wife’s name and address were delivered to Volious’s house on South Lake Road. Volious gave the labels to Fears. At the time, the FBI was keeping track of Fears, Volious and V.M., court records indicate.
On June 6, FBI phone monitors recorded nine telephone calls between Young and Volious.
On June 7, Fears went to V.M.’s house and prepared the package, along with the labels, for shipping. Then Fears took the package to the Irmo post office, where he put it in an outside mail bin for pickup. It’s unclear what happened to the package.
Later on June 7, the FBI arrested Volious. On June 8, the FBI arrested Fears.
At Thursday’s hearing, Magistrate Judge Paige Gossett appointed Columbia attorney William Hodge to represent Young. Maggie Fox and Jim Griffin are representing Fears; Aimee Zmroczek is representing Volious.
In 2011, at Young’s sentencing hearing for Bell’s killing, his attorney John Delgado of Columbia told the court Young was truly sorry. “He’s a completely different person now,” Delgado said of Young.