Facing charges in 2016 for trading sexually explicit photos with a teenager whose family later found out, John Michael Musbach turned to the internet for a solution.
He logged on to a site called Besa Mafia and browsed its sales pitch, offering hit men willing to kill anyone, anywhere, for the right price.
“The target would be 14,” Musbach allegedly wrote. “Is that an acceptable age or too young? I can budget up to $20K for the order.”
What followed would ensnare Musbach in a contract killing scam stretching from the deepest corners of the so-called dark web to Eastern Europe and eventually his former home in Atlantic County. It left him swindled out of $20,000 and now threatens to put the 31-year-old computer tech in prison for a decade, the latest defendant charged with soliciting murder after hackers handed authorities information about the website’s users.
Federal agents arrested Musbach Thursday at his current home in Haddonfield. Though he was ripped off and the ordered hit never took place, Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana V. Carrig said, Musbach’s intentions were deadly serious.
“Mr. Musbach is accused of doing what is every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said. “He enticed a child to send sexually explicit images … and when that all came to light, he decided he can’t have that, and decided the victim should be murdered.”
Investigators did not name the website at the center of Musbach’s case. But descriptions of its sales pitch in court filings matched those associated with the now-defunct Besa Mafia site.
“If you want to kill someone … we are the right guys,” the site boasted in claims littered among photos of shirtless men with weapons slung over their shoulders. “We have professional hitmen available throughout the entire USA, Canada and Europe … Most of our gang members are drug dealers but they do contract killing when they are short on cash.”
In 2016, Chris Monteiro, a London-based cybercrime researcher, cracked into the site’s communications with its customers with the help of a white-hat hacker who employs the pseudonym “Judge Judy.” They discovered a host of anonymous users seemingly willing to pay any price to solve their problems with murder.
But the hack also revealed that the promises of swift killings for cash made by Besa Mafia’s administrator — a mysterious man known online only by the moniker “Yura” — were largely empty.
In the four years since, investigators have been unable to identify a single slaying that occurred thanks to the money Besa Mafia’s customers paid, although one Minnesota woman was killed by her husband after his attempts to hire a hit man on the site fell through.
Musbach’s involvement with the site, as detailed in government court filings Thursday, followed a familiar script.
Atlantic County police arrested him on child pornography charges in September 2015, after the parents of a teenage boy in New York reported their son and Musbach had been trading explicit photos online..
Prosecutors said Musbach obsessively searched phrases like “where to buy chloroform,” “poisonous hemlock,” and “death by caffeine” before turning to Besa Mafia as he awaited his trial.
Yura negotiated terms in writing with blithe detachment and often broken English. “Yes, 14 years old is acceptable,” he wrote to Musbach in an exchange quoted in court filings. “We have gang members do the hit.”
But when Musbach allegedly paid the $20,000 in bitcoin and days passed without the killing, Yura responded to Musbach’s worried inquiries with excuses.
“There is a small problem,” he wrote. “The assigned hit man got arrested for cocaine possession while he was near the place. We have another hit man ready to do the hit, but he saith this is an important person.” Yura then asked for $5,000 more.
On his blog, Monteiro, the cybercrime expert involved in the 2016 hack, has noted Yura made similar excuses in many interactions with duped customers.
Once the money was in hand, he always claimed to have dispatched a killer who encountered unforeseen problems on his way to commit the crime, whether a traffic stop or an untimely arrest. A request for more money always followed.
Musbach, prosecutors said, wasn’t put off by that price hike. Emails quoted in court papers depict him scrambling to come up with the extra money and insisting that the hit go forward.
Yura’s responses became less frequent until finally he emailed again.
“I am sorry to disappoint you,” he wrote, according to court filings. “Unfortunately, our site is a scam, and we pass customer and target information on to law enforcement.”
He demanded $20,000 more to keep Musbach’s name anonymous.
That blackmail threat, Monteiro has said, was also part of Yura’s playbook — but one with which he never apparently followed through.
It was Monteiro who helped hack the site in 2016 and turned its communications over to authorities across the globe. News outlets, including the CBS show 48 Hours, have followed his lead with investigations that have led to charges against at least eight people worldwide, including Beau Brigham, a former YouTube star convicted in California last year for taking a hit out on his stepmother.
Despite investigations, Monteiro’s efforts, and in-depth reports by several journalists, Yura’s identity remains a mystery. Clues suggest he lives in Eastern Europe, and went on to launch several similar dark-web scam sites after Besa Mafia was shut down.
As for Musbach, he pleaded guilty in the child pornography case after the hit attempt fizzled out. In 2018, he received a two-year sentence for child endangerment and a lifetime of parole supervision.
Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations confirmed his identity this year and were able to trace the money he paid for the hit to his bank accounts, prosecutors said. They did not accuse him of making any attempt to follow through with murder after Yura scammed him.
Since then, Musbach has rebuilt his life, complied with every condition of his probation, and started a new job and relationship, his attorney, Thomas Young, said during a hearing Thursday in federal court in Camden.
The new allegations came as a surprise to his partner, Carl Williams, who testified Thursday that while Musbach had been open about his past problems with child porn, he had not mentioned trying to have someone killed.
“It’s very serious,” Williams said. “There are no other times that I’ve heard anything like this behavior that I’ve heard about today.”