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Bitcoins, dark web and a 'good beating': East Aurora woman tried to teach ex a lesson

When Yanyan Lesser sought revenge on an ex-boyfriend, she waded into the murky, sometimes menacing, world known as the dark web.

She came armed with bitcoin, a popular cryptocurrency, and a request for a hitman capable of putting her ex in a wheelchair for good.

"I would like to give this guy a lesson," Lesser said in one of her dark web messages. "Give him a good beating and legs broken."

On Wednesday, the East Aurora woman admitted making the threats that landed her in federal custody. She will face a recommended sentence of up to 30 months in prison.

In court papers, prosecutors detail how Lesser used the dark web, a network of encrypted websites that is often a home to drug dealers, human traffickers and other black market criminals.

The network cannot be accessed through normal search engines and requires a special browser to navigate.

Lesser, in her plea agreement, admitted using bitcoin, a currency that allows individuals to buy on the dark web or elsewhere without the help or interference of a bank or other authority.

Prosecutors said Lesser's target was an ex-boyfriend in Florida.

"This was someone who had a short but romantic relationship with the defendant," Assistant U.S. Attorney Wei Xiang said Wednesday.

In one of her dark web messages, Lesser asked that the attack be made to look like a robbery, according to the complaint against her.

"Please remember must be ... like a robbery," she said in the message. "That's very important."

Xiang said Lesser sent about $7,000 in bitcoin to a dark website advertising hitmen. He said the site is a fraud, set up to exploit people such as Lesser. The attack was never carried out and the ex-boyfriend was not injured.

"The site has gone dark," he told U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny. "Where they moved to, we have no idea."

The case against Lesser began in February when Homeland Security Investigations received information about an unidentified subject using the online moniker "Tree1" on the dark web.

The investigation led agents to a man in Florida who, in turn, led them to Lesser.

Xiang said the evidence also included Lesser's iPhone, which was eventually seized and found to contain information regarding her purchase of bitcoin around the same time as the threatening messages appeared on the dark web.

Lesser said little on Wednesday, but her lawyer suggested there is another side to her story. He promised to elaborate at her sentencing in December.

"She's accepted responsibility and she's sorry for what she's done," said defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman. "But there were extenuating circumstances that we will get into before sentencing."

More and more, the public is becoming aware of the dark web and, with that increased interest, have come warnings about security and privacy.

The right kind of browser can provide some anonymity and security but law enforcement authorities say there are still risks to those who use it, whether it be for legitimate purposes or illegal activity.

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