A self-described community activist from Southwest Philadelphia is facing federal murder-for-hire charges after he allegedly offered an FBI informant cash to kill a rival.
Darnell Jackson, 47, known as “Major Change,” is behind bars, awaiting a detention hearing, and, if convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison, authorities said.
He was arrested last Wednesday in the Elmwood neighborhood as he was driving to purportedly pay the informant, who had just falsely told Jackson he had committed the murder, according to prosecutors.
But Jackson had “nowhere near” the agreed-upon $5,500, authorities said. What he did have, investigators allege, is a self-assembled, unserialized “ghost gun” and 16 rounds of ammunition.
“It is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that law enforcement thwarted multiple alleged attempted murders by the defendant last week,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement.
Two days before his arrest, Jackson sent a text message to the informant with a photograph of the target and, in a phone conversation, told him he would be willing to pay to have him killed, according to a criminal complaint.
Then, on Tuesday, July 20, federal agents were listening as the pair spoke about a contract to have the man murdered, prosecutors said.
During a bugged in-person meeting on Wednesday, the informant asked for an advance, and Jackson denied him the cash, saying “loyalty over royalty,” according to the complaint.
He also allegedly said the informant could shoot anyone who was with the target except children and a particular woman whose name was withheld in court documents.
Federal authorities said the sting was part of an ongoing drug investigation. Recent searches conducted at several houses believed to be connected to a group led by Jackson turned up fentanyl, guns and a “pill press,” the complaint said.
Neither the target of the alleged plot nor the informant was named in court records, though the latter has been a reliable source of information for four years, according to an FBI agent.
Jackson is an anti-violence advocate and motivational speaker, his attorney, Nino Tinari, said. Under his “Major Change” nickname, Jackson has more than 13,000 followers on Instagram, where he regularly posts videos.
“He vehemently denies any of these allegations, and, in my mind, I think he will win out on this when it probably comes to a determination by a jury,” Tinari told Metro.
Tinari said he is concerned that his client may be a victim of FBI entrapment.
Jackson has several prior convictions, all dating from the 1990s, including a 1997 case in which he was sentenced to seven-to-15 years in prison for aggravated assault and voluntary manslaughter.
Arbittier Williams said the murder-for-hire investigation was part of an inter-agency initiative called “All Hands on Deck” that was started in April to support the Philadelphia Police Department in light of rising homicide and shooting numbers.