For more than a year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been investigating a secretive Internet-based marketplace suspected of connecting manufacturers of poisons and other controlled substances with potential buyers, according to court records.
The investigation was revealed in an FBI affidavit unsealed Friday in the case of a San Francisco man arrested earlier this week after federal agents said they found a explosive materials in his apartment. Officials also said he attempted to buy lethal toxins over the Internet.
Ryan Kelly Chamberlain, 42, was arrested Monday after federal agents found the makings of an improvised bomb -- explosive powder, a motor, wires for a detonator, ball bearings and screws -- in his Polk Street apartment, according to a criminal complaint affidavit.
The items were found in a messenger bag allegedly belonging to Chamberlain during a search May 31, according to the complaint affidavit.
Authorities have said they aren't sure what Chamberlain planned to do with the materials.
According to a second affidavit unsealed Friday, Chamberlain late last year negotiated the purchase of a lethal amount of a ricin-like toxin known as abrin.
The affidavit said that Chamberlain "actively uses illicit websites to acquire illegal toxins," but it did not say whether investigators found any poisons in his apartment.
The person who authorities said negotiated the abrin transaction and shipped a package to a "Ryan Kelly" at Chamberlain's address in December is described in the affidavit as an unidentified witness.
The deal was made on a secretive website known as Black Market Reloaded, according to the affidavit. The Homeland Security Department has been investigating the website in connection with suspicious sales of biological agents and other controlled substances for more than a year, it said.
A San Francisco buyer who identified himself as "Ryan Kelly" responded to a Black Market Reloaded posting for the sale of abrin -- a toxin that is lethal if inhaled or ingested -- saying he wanted to "ease the suffering" of cancer patients, according to the affidavit.
The buyer also asked several questions about abrin, "such as dosing size, dose to body weight ratio, time of effect, and whether an autopsy" could detect it, the affidavit said.
The witness said he shipped ground rosary peas, the raw material for abrin, in two clear vials that he concealed inside flashlights, according to the affidavit. The buyer later contacted the witness to complain that the product did not work as promised, the affidavit said. The buyer learned that the peas were insufficiently ground and that the buyer could have refined the material into a toxic poison himself, it said.
The investigation led agents to a Florida suspect who said he had previously shipped five to 10 milliliters of pure nicotine, which can cause paralysis and death, to a "Ryan Kelly" at the Polk Street address, the affidavit said.
After the discovery of the bomb materials at the apartment last week, authorities launched a search for Chamberlain, describing him as "armed and dangerous."
On Monday, Chamberlain released an automated note to friends in the form of a three-page letter on Facebook that retraced recent heartbreaks, perceived betrayals and bouts with melancholy.
The letter ended with a goodbye and "I love you" but made no explicit threat toward the public. Those close to him told the news media that they feared Chamberlain would hurt himself, not others.
Chamberlain faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The public defender representing him did not respond to an email request for comment.