Crime & Courts

FBI’s dark web sting activity in SC prison mail bomb plot kept secret by judge

Details about an FBI dark web sting that foiled a state prison mail order bomb plot were ordered kept under seal Friday by a federal magistrate judge.

During a hearing at Columbia’s federal courthouse, defense attorney Jim Griffin, who represents one of the men accused in the plot, repeatedly tried to get an FBI agent to testify about what the agency did to make a S.C. Department of Corrections inmate believe he was ordering a mail-order bomb.

“Who made the bomb? ... Where did the bomb come from?” Griffin asked FBI agent Matthew Desmond.

The defense needs to know how much actual danger there was, and whether the whole matter was concocted by the FBI, Griffin told Magistrate Judge Paige Gossett.

To show the judge that some details about the secret FBI activity are public, Griffin displayed a copy of The State newspaper with the headline, “‘Dark Web’ sting snares S.C. inmate in mail-bomb murder plot.”

But Gossett agreed with prosecutor Will Lewis. She declined to make Desmond answer the question. Those matters are under seal.

Gosset also denied bond for Tyrell Fears, one of the three accused plotters.

Fears, 21, is a graduate of Dutch Fork High School, where he was on its wrestling team. Fears was going to join the U.S. Marines before being arrested and charged along with Young and Vance Voulious with conspiring to kill by using a mail bomb.

Gossett said Fears posed a danger to Shauna Clark, Young’s ex-wife and the target of the alleged plot. As Young’s primary, out-of-prison accomplice, Fears received the bomb, armed it, put labels on it and took it to the Irmo post office, Lewis said. The FBI seized the device before it was sent through the mail.

Fears is Young’s nephew and has always regarded the inmate as a “father figure,” Griffin said.

Young, 31, is serving a 50-year sentence for killing Clark’s father and injuring her during a shooting at Columbiana Centre. He is trying to get his sentence overturned. She would be a key witness in any new trial, Lewis said.

During testimony, new details and allegations emerged:

▪  Young used a contraband cellphone from prison to access the internet and order the bomb.

▪  Young has sufficient standing in a prison gang to issue orders to people outside. The gang wasn’t identified in court.

▪ Young, from prison, ran a business importing illegal drugs into South Carolina.

▪  The bomb wasn’t powerful enough to hurt anyone. The box contained trace elements of RDX, a military explosive considered more powerful than TNT.