An operation conducted by law enforcement in the United States and in North West England led to the arrest of three men for importing firearms from a source on the dark web. Information about the bust was revealed at a recent sentencing hearing where each defendant was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for a number of firearms and ammunition crimes.
The investigation began in the United States when a Special Agent with Homeland Security Investigations seized a package containing firearms, ammunition, and a suppressor. According to information revealed during a recent hearing at Liverpool Crown Court, the sender of the guns had addressed the package to one of the defendants at a house in the North West England city of Liverpool. The Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent reached out to the Merseyside Police and spoke about the intercepted package with a detective in Liverpool.
Homeland Security Investigations provided information that led to the identification of the primary suspect not long after initiating the discussion with the Liverpool detective; the entity who had shipped the guns, ammunition, and silencer to the United Kingdom had addressed the package to a “Joseph Halsall” at a Newsham Drive, Tuebrook address. Halsall, investigators later learned, had been searching for a way to import firearms from the United States since earlier this year. He had finally found someone on the dark web capable of shipping Glock 19s, 150 rounds of 9mm ammunition, and a single suppressor internationally for an undisclosed fee. The investigation later uncovered bitcoin transactions initiated from Halsall’s laptop connected to the firearm purchase.
The firearms, silencer, and ammunition were uncovered after the Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent had searched inside of a guitar amp. According to the prosecutor at Liverpool Crown Court, Daniel Travers, the dark web gun dealer had used an amp to hide the guns that law enforcement in Liverpool could easily access. So, in an effort to avoid tipping off the intended recipients of the package, police in Liverpool opted to reconstruct the package locally rather than wait for law enforcement in the United States to replace the guns with inoperable replicas and then send the package back into the international mail stream. The detectives purchased an identical amp from a local source and prepared a package for controlled delivery. Instead of mailing a package with an amp containing replica firearms and inert ammunition, the police fitted the amp with a hidden camera.
As the courtroom learned at the sentencing hearing, the camera captured the entire package delivery, reception by unexpected parties, surprise upon discovering an “empty” amp, and subsequent police raid. The original package was carried by FedEx. The replacement package was delivered by a “delivery driver in a Ford van,” Merseyside Police explained. Detectives watched as three individuals pulled into the Tuebrook address owned by Halsall. Not long after their arrival, the delivery driver met them outside of the house and the package exchanged hands. All three suspects entered the house, opened the package, and searched for their guns without success. As they searched for the package, Merseyside Police raided the house, arrested all three suspects, and searched the house.
They identified the three individuals as Joseph Halsall and his two friends, Daniel Humphreys and Josh Ali. They also found a laptop in Halsall’s car that had been used to access hidden services with the Tor Browser. It also had evidence connecting Ali to a bitcoin exchange and to transactions associated with the firearm purchase. Police arrested all three individuals for a series of weapons crimes. Not long after the arrests, the defendants submitted guilty pleas. All three admitted conspiracy to sell prohibited firearms, conspiracy to possess a firearm and ammunition, conspiracy to import a firearm and ammunition, and conspiracy to possess a firearm without a license.
The court sentenced all three defendants to eight years and eight months in prison. “The sentencing today sends out a strong message to those involved in gun crime – Merseyside Police is committed to taking you off our streets,” Detective Superintendent John Webster said after the hearing.