A 46-year-old career criminal from Northamptonshire who was caught buying fragmentation grenades with bitcoin on the Internet has been sentenced to life in prison.
Paul Stellato was arrested in December 2016 after attempting to purchase the firearms on the now-closed dark web market site AlphaBay using his cocaineking247 profile, which he had previously used to buy drugs.
Unbeknown to him the grenade seller was, in fact, an FBI agent posing as an arms vendor.
When officers arrested Stellato on December 16, 2016, at his home in Rossiter House, Manor Road in Brackley, a number of class A and B drugs were recovered from his bedroom and from an MG Rover in an underground car park.
Sentencing, Judge Adrienne Lucking QC said: "In determining the appropriate determinate sentence I must consider your culpability.
"I consider it is high; there is an intent to endanger life, aggravated by the degree of planning necessary for the offence, the relative sophistication accessing the dark web, using cryptocurrency, liaising with a 'criminal' and moving explosives across jurisdictions.
"I must also consider the harm caused; your intention was to endanger life and so serious harm was intended but thanks to the intervention of law enforcement agencies none in fact occurred."
Judge Lucking added Stellato had not shown any remorse and that there was very limited mitigation available because of his "extensive previous convictions".
"There is no way to determine when, if ever, you will cease to be dangerous," said Judge Lucking.
"I am satisfied that you present a significant risk of causing serious harm by committing further similar offences, a risk that is likely to carry on long into the future.
"I am satisfied that your offence is so serious that a sentence of life imprisonment is required; and that is the sentence which I impose."
Stellato was given 14 years in jail and Judge Lucking fixed the minimum term to seven years, minus the 431 days he spent remanded in custody.
This means Stellato first review before a parole board will be after five years and 299 days.
Stellato has 36 previous convictions for 171 offences committed between 1989 and 2002, including assault, affray, perverting the course of justice, public disorder, possession of drugs with intent to supply and fraud.
Stellato's most notable previous offence was an incident of arson in 1998 in which he poured petrol threw his ex-partner's parents home, forcing them to jump out of a window 20 feet high from which they suffered serious injuries.
His defence barrister, Gerry Mohabir, told the court his client was unmedicated at the time of the arson in 1998 just as he was when attempting to purchase the grenades.
Mr Mohabir said his client's prison behaviour was "exemplary" when on his medication and that Stellato had only shown a fascination for weapons rather than a desire to cause harm.
Instead, he wanted to buy the grenades "for show" because he "craves attention".
"In reality, he is more of a Walter Mitty, not someone who is a menace to society," said Mr Mohabir.
"He is someone who quite clearly has a significant mental health history."
Class A and B drugs with a street value of £6,110 were found at Stellato's address when he was arrested. He was sentenced for drug offences, a term that will run concurrently to his life sentence.
NCA branch commander David Norris said: “Stellato has a history of violence and is a very dangerous man as his long criminal record shows.
“It’s terrifying to think what he could have done with three grenades.
“We worked tirelessly with our partners – including the FBI – to keep these weapons away from him.”
Detective Inspector Adam Pendlebury, from Northamptonshire Police, said: “A search of Paul Stellato’s property led officers to a vehicle which contained £5,500 worth of cannabis.
“Our investigation revealed his fingerprints on the drugs packaging as well as text messages that indicated he was involved in the supply of drugs.
“Clearly Stellato was involved in supplying drugs in the Brackley area and it’s concerning that he was also attempting to buy grenades. Hopefully today’s sentence will offer some reassurance to the local community.”