Articles About Ricin Incidents
Collected and Highlighted by Ed Lake
(Articles from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have been removed)
USA Today - Feb. 4, 2004 - "Feds didn't report ricin for 5 days"
The New York Times - Feb. 5, 2004 - "Truckers Look in Their Ranks for 'Fallen Angel' Writer"
The CarolinaChannel.com - Feb. 5, 2004 - "No Link Found In Greenville, Senate Ricin Letters So Far"
The Associated Press - Feb. 5, 2004 - "Mysterious 'Fallen Angel' letters focus of ricin investigation"
The Seattle Times - Feb. 5, 2004 - "U.S.: Ricin letters not foreign terror attack"
USA Today - Feb. 4, 2004 - "Secret Service investigated ricin quietly"
The Associated Press - Feb. 5, 2004 - "Search Widens for Source of Ricin in D.C."
The Associated Press - Feb. 6, 2004 - "Search for Senate Ricin Source Widens"
The Associated Press - Feb. 7, 2004 - "U.S. asks truckers for help in ricin investigation"
The Jackson Sun - Feb. 7, 2004 - "Frist's office combed for ricin"
The Los Angeles Times - Feb. 8, 2004 - "FBI Uses DNA Analysis to Pinpoint Ricin Source"
Time Magazine - Feb. 16, 2004 - "Homegrown Terror"
The Associated Press - Feb. 13, 2004 - "FBI Director Predicts Success in Ricin, Anthrax Probes"
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Feb. 17, 2004 - "FBI takes records from trucking company in ricin probe"
NBC News - Feb. 18, 2004 - "Ricin Tests May Have Been Wrong"
The Tennessean - Feb. 20, 2004 - "FBI circulates leaflets around Chattanooga in its ricin probe"
The FBI's Wanted Poster for the ricin case
The Washington Times - Feb. 23, 2004 - "Anthrax attacks stump FBI, but remain priority"
Associated Press - Feb. 23, 2004 - "White House Letter With Ricin Released"
The Associated Press - Feb. 25, 2004 - "Union: Postal workers weren't told of ricin"
The Associated Press - Mar. 10, 2004 - "Investigators Struggle With Ricin Probe"
The Seattle Times - Apr. 16, 2004 - "FBI OK'd ricin-case shipment"
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Apr. 16, 2004 - "Ricin case took 4 months to get off the ground"
Daily Herald - Aug. 31, 2004 - "Suspect had the makings of ricin"
The Associated Press - Sep. 2, 2004 - "Ricin found in Greenville last year could be linked to Illinois man's death last week"
The Trucker - Sept. 7, 2004 "FBI: 'no evidence of ricin' in trucker case"
The Washington Times - Dec. 23, 2004 - "Reward in ricin inquiry increased"
Orlando Sentinel - Jan. 14, 2005 - "FBI says man made deadly toxin -- ricin"
CNN - Jan. 14, 2005 - "Florida man faces bioweapon charge"
WFAA.com - Jan. 30, 2006 - "Dallas human trial of ricin vaccine successful"
The Daily Texan - Feb. 24, 2006 - "Ricin found in Moore-Hill dorm"
The Houston Chronicle - Feb. 25, 2006 - "Ricin Discovered in Texas Dormitory"
CNN - Feb. 25, 2006 - "Authorities: Powder in dorm likely not ricin"
The Houston Chronicle - Feb. 26, 2006 - "Austin officials now say powder found at dorm may not even be the deadly toxin"
The Houston Chronicle - Feb. 27, 2006 - "Substance found at UT is not ricin"
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Dec. 12, 2006 - "Inmate may be linked to ricin letter"
The Associated Press - March 1, 2008 - "Guns, 'Anarchist Book' Found With Ricin"
Las Vegas Review-Journal - March 1, 2008 - "Guns, anarchy text found in room with ricin"
The Salt Lake Tribune - March 3, 2008 - "FBI, others probe Utah links to Las Vegas discovery of deadly ricin"
The Los Angeles Times - March 3, 2008 - "The 'why' of ricin cache is still a puzzle"
The Salt Lake Tribune - March 4, 2008 - "Ricin probe: Few answers for investigators in Vegas or Utah"
Middle East Times - March 4, 2008 - "Analysis: Experts: Ricin terror overblown"
The Salt Lake Tribune - March 5, 2008 - "CDC test confirms substance is ricin"
Reno Gazette-Journal - March 5, 2008 - "Victim had lived in Reno"
Associated Press - March 6, 2008 - "Man in Suspected Ricin Case Was Loner"
KLAS-TV Las Vegas - March 13, 2008 - "New Information in Ricin Investigation"
Associated Press - March 14, 2008 - "FBI talking to hospitalized man at center of Las Vegas ricin case"
Associated Press - March 17, 2008 - "Brother: Man Blames Ricin for Illness"
Associated Press - March 17, 2008 - "Man Says Ricin Belonged to His Brother"
Associated Press - April 3, 2008 - " Utah suspect faces charges in ricin case"
Associated Press - April 4, 2008 - "Man sickened by ricin seen as acting alone"
Associated Press - April 16, 2008 - "Man at center of Las Vegas ricin case arrested, charged"
Associated Press - April 16, 2008 - "Man held in Las Vegas ricin case appears in federal court"
The New York Times - April 17, 2008 - "Man Hospitalized From Ricin Arrested"
CNN.com - Aug. 4, 2008 - " Man pleads guilty to ricin possession"

Posted 2/4/2004 11:08 PM     Updated 2/5/2004 9:13 AM

Feds didn't report ricin for 5 days

By Toni Locy and Kevin Johnson, 
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Wednesday that it failed to notify law enforcement and public health officials for five days last year that the poison ricin had been found at the White House mail-processing center.

The Secret Service, the agency that protects the president, acknowledged the lapse in November as FBI agents searched for the source of Monday's ricin attack on the U.S. Senate.

"In hindsight, we recognize the importance of timely notifications to our partners in law enforcement and public health," Secret Service spokeswoman Ann Roman said.

The admission comes as the FBI is investigating whether the ricin found in a Senate office is connected to the White House letter in November and a previous incident in Greenville, S.C., where a letter containing a vial of ricin was left in a post office Oct. 15.

Ricin is a poison that can kill if ingested. There is no antidote. Officials said Wednesday that no one had become ill. The Senate was expected today to begin reopening three buildings closed since Monday.

FBI agents suspect the White House and Greenville letters are linked because of the poor quality of ricin and the messages signed by "Fallen Angel." The sender demanded the repeal of rules limiting truckers' driving hours, or "I will start dumping" ricin. (Related story: Who is 'Fallen Angel'?)

Ricin was discovered Monday on a letter-opening machine in the office of Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Frist said Wednesday that the ricin was sent through the mail. But FBI agents had not determined how it got there, said two federal law enforcement officials close to the case. 

The White House ricin letter was sent through the mail and was intercepted by the Secret Service Nov. 6 at an off-site mail-processing center. It contained a vial of a powdery substance and a letter to the Department of Transportation. A test proved negative.

On Nov. 7, ricin was first detected at the mail facility from tests on equipment.  By Nov. 10, the Secret Service knew a retest of the letter was "probable for ricin." But the White House, FBI and other agencies were not notified until Nov. 12. 

"There was no plan to keep this from anybody," said Charles Bopp, a Secret Service spokesman. "It was ... making sure of what we had before anything was done."

Contributing: Mimi Hall andAndrea Stone 

February 5, 2004

Truckers Look in Their Ranks for 'Fallen Angel' Writer

By ANDREW JACOBS
The New York Times

SPARTANBURG, S.C., Feb. 4 — The letter was brief and to the point. 

"I'm a fleet owner of a tanker company," it said. "I have access to castor pulp," a reference to the raw material to make the deadly compound ricin. "If my demand is dismissed, I am capable of making Ricin."

The note, attached to a metal vial containing the powder and addressed to the Transportation Department, was dropped off in October at a mail-sorting office at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. A similar letter appeared in November at a mail-processing center that serves the White House. Both notes were signed "Fallen Angel," law enforcement officials said. 

As investigators explore possible links between the parcels and the presence of ricin in a Senate mailroom, trucking executives and the drivers who haul the nation's goods wondered whether one of their own might have used bioterrorism to publicize opposition to trucking rules that took effect last month. The regulations, which aim to reduce accidents by reducing how long drivers can stay on the road, have roiled the industry, which is already reeling from a recessionary drop in freight and higher fuel costs.

The president of the South Carolina Trucking Association, Rick Todd, said if the person responsible for the ricin contamination was a trucker "it is certainly awful for the image of our industry, especially for the millions of hard-working truck drivers across America." 

"It's hard to imagine anyone could be this upset about these changes," Mr. Todd said. 

Among the road-rattled drivers who were filling their fuel tanks at a truck stop near here, passions ran high, especially among independents, drivers who own their rigs and who say the regulations lead to longer hours and less money. 

"This guy must be a kook, but at least folks are going to listen to what he's saying," said Joe Thompson, who has been driving his 18-wheeler for 10 years. "The feds are killing us with their bureaucracy." 

After the letter was found here, Daniel Somerson, an advocate for owner-operators whose homemade Web site criticizes the rules, said F.B.I. agents had interviewed him and his wife. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Columbia, Tom O'Neill, would not comment on the investigation but said agents were looking into the possibility that a disgruntled trucker was responsible for the parcels. 

Federal transportation officials say the rules, which took effect on Jan. 4 and have a 60-day grace period, would save 75 lives and prevent 1,300 fatigue-related accidents a year by establishing a routine for truck drivers that they say more closely mirrors natural work and sleep rhythms. 

Officials say the changes are the most far-reaching for the industry in 65 years, reducing daily driving time, to 10 hours from 11. 

The most contentious change involves calculating workdays. Drivers can be on duty only for 14 hours a day, meaning that if a driver spends 6 hours awaiting goods at a factory, a delay that truckers say is not uncommon, the driver can stay on the road for just 8 more hours.

Time spent stopped for fueling, napping or eating is not counted as rest time. Some drivers say that keeps them behind the wheel for longer uninterrupted periods. In some cases, drivers say, the rules make them drive faster. 

"We've got to get the same work done in less time, and that makes the job more stressful," said Bob Williams, a "tanker yanker," a hauler of hazardous chemicals. "Listen, we're adults, and we know when it's time to rest. If we didn't, we'd be in a graveyard already." 

Coming on the tail of higher fuel costs and a three-year recession in the industry, trucking companies and owner-operators say the rules will lead to higher costs, which will ultimately be passed on to consumers.

"This is not good for the economy," Mr. Williams said at the counter of the Travel Centers of America truck stop as other truckers nodded assent. "The government just threw this in our lap. Understandably, we're not very happy."

Not everyone is displeased over the new rules, especially those that mandate a 10-hour break after every 14 hours. Fleet drivers who receive steady salaries or hourly wages are the biggest winners. But for owner-operators who are paid by the mile, less driving time means less money and more time away from home.

"These new regs are going to put us under," said Rodney Snyder, a driver for 14 years. "I'm thinking of getting out of the business." 

No Link Found In Greenville, Senate Ricin Letters So Far

Greenville Letter And White House Letter Have Similarities

POSTED: 9:37 AM EST February 5, 2004
UPDATED: 10:06 AM EST February 5, 2004
TheCarolinaChannel.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Investigators say they have determined no link between the deadly poison ricin delivered to a U.S. Senate mailroom and an earlier incident at a Greenville County postal facility.

The FBI and the Capitol Police Department are investigating whether the person who sent ricin-laced mail to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also made threats in letters sent to the Upstate post office and a postal facility that serves the White House.

In October 2003, a package containing ricin (shown, [below]) was sent to a Greenville County postal facility that serves the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.

A letter with the package was signed "Fallen Angel" and included a threat to use the poison as a weapon unless new trucking regulations are rolled back.

The note read as follows:

to the department of transportation: I'm a fleet owner of a tanker company.

I have easy access to castor pulp. If my demand is dismissed I'm capable of making Ricin.

My demand is simple, January 4 2004 starts the new hours of service for trucks which include a ridiculous ten hours in the sleeper berth. Keep at eight or I will start dumping.

You have been warned this is the only letter that will be sent by me.

Fallen Angel

Another letter that included the same threat and was signed with the same name was found in a postal facility that processes mail for the White House in November.

The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in this case. Anyone with information is asked to call 1-866-839-6241


Warning note found on Greenville NC ricin package.

Posted on Thu, Feb. 05, 2004

Mysterious 'Fallen Angel' letters focus of ricin investigation
CURT ANDERSON
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A thorough search of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's personal mailroom has turned up no additional traces of ricin and no threatening letters or messages, law enforcement officials said Thursday.

Hazardous materials teams from the FBI, Capitol Police Department and Postal Service finished examination and testing of all the mail that had been isolated after ricin was found on a mail-opening machine on Monday.

Nothing suspicious was found, including no message from a mysterious "Fallen Angel" who has sent two threatening letters containing ricin to government agencies, said two federal law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, they said, the possibility that the ricin had arrived in the mail has not been ruled out.

The earlier typewritten "Fallen Angel" letters, addressed to the White House and Transportation Department, warned that more ricin would be used unless some trucking regulations that went into effect Jan. 4 were scrapped.

Three Senate buildings were closed for a second day Wednesday, but one was being reopened Thursday, one Friday and the Dirksen building - where the ricin was found - is scheduled to reopen on Monday.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said investigators have found "no obvious direct connection" between the Frist case and the letters signed by "Fallen Angel." Those letters were discovered in mail facilities that serve the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina and the White House.

They were found Oct. 15 and Nov. 6, respectively, but the existence of the White House letter was not disclosed by the Bush administration until Tuesday.

The letters, described as nearly identical, claimed that the author owned a tanker truck fleet company and demanded that rules governing the numbers of hours truckers can drive remain unchanged, according to the FBI.

The FBI said the South Carolina letter was in an envelope with a typewritten warning "Caution RICIN POISON." The letter included claims that the author could make much more ricin and would "start dumping" if the new regulations weren't abolished. There was no delivery address and no postmark.

No one has fallen ill in any of the incidents.

There is no known antidote for ricin, a strong toxin which is relatively easy to make from castor beans. Ricin is considered a less effective weapon for causing mass casualties than anthrax, which was mailed to Senate offices in late 2001, because it is more difficult to make airborne and requires inhalation of large quantities to be fatal.

The FBI focused on ricin in its weekly intelligence bulletin to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. The confidential bulletin, obtained by The Associated Press, said no threat of any kind had been received in the Frist case. It concentrated mostly on the dangers of ricin and how police should respond to potential contamination.

The trucking industry has been working with the FBI and Transportation Department inspector general's office on the investigation. The American Trucking Association has sent bulletins to its members urging them to be aware of people "displaying aggressive behavior" or engaging in suspicious activity.

One association bulletin asked that members "be alert for either a potential disgruntled trucking company, trucking company employee or person purporting to be from the trucking industry" who has made threats in the past against government agencies.

The regulations at the heart of the "Fallen Angel" letters were four years in the making and drew some 53,000 comments when first proposed, trucking association spokesman Mike Russell said. Many truckers and companies worried about lost pay and productivity because of stricter rest requirements.

"It was controversial," Russell said.

While the South Carolina letter's existence was made public shortly after it was found, the Bush administration delayed acknowledgment of the White House letter by nearly three months. It was intercepted Nov. 6 by the Secret Service at an offsite mail facility.

Secret Service spokeswoman Ann Roman said the FBI and other agencies were notified after the letter tested probable for ricin on Nov. 12. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Homeland Security officials held a Nov. 13 conference call with the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Postal Service and other agencies to discuss what to do.

Ultimately, the ricin in that letter was deemed to be of a low grade and not a threat to public health, so no announcement was made. President Bush was not immediately informed, McClellan said.

"We share information appropriately, if there is a public health risk," McClellan told reporters.

The al-Qaida terror group has threatened to use ricin, but officials have found no indication that the two "Fallen Angel" letters or the Frist incident are connected to international terrorism.

The FBI has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the "Fallen Angel" case.

Thursday, February 05, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
The Seattle Times

U.S.: Ricin letters not foreign terror attack

By Seth Borenstein and Sumana Chatterjee
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The ricin sent to top government agencies — including the White House — probably is coming from inside the United States and from a homegrown criminal rather than foreign terrorists, investigators and outside experts say. 

"It does not bear the mark of an international terrorist attack," a Department of Homeland Security official said yesterday on the condition of anonymity. "This is a criminal issue.  It is not a weapon of mass destruction."

Meanwhile, the investigation has broadened beyond Washington to Chattanooga, Tenn. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said yesterday that tests are being conducted at a Chattanooga postal facility for the presence of ricin. He declined to elaborate. Others, who wouldn't be quoted by name, hinted of fears of possible contamination from processing one of the letters. 

The Postal Service said all tests for ricin at its District of Columbia facility that processes congressional mail were negative. The station, closed as a precaution, reopened last night. 

Ricin-tainted letters sent in the fall were signed by "Fallen Angel," who described himself as a U.S. business owner who had a gripe against a Department of Transportation rule that increased the amount of sleep required for truckers. Investigators now are trying to determine if ricin found Monday in Frist's mailroom is connected to those earlier letters. 

The fact that no letter or package that contained the powdery ricin has been found is hampering the investigation. 

"There's been no smoking-letter information that helps tie this thing together," U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said. 

White House spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged yesterday that a ricin-laced letter was sent to the White House but intercepted in an off-site mail facility in November. 

"The letter was deemed by public-health officials not to be a public-health threat," he said, so the White House kept its existence a secret to aid investigators. 

The first "Fallen Angel" letter was addressed to the Department of Transportation and found in a Greenville, S.C., post office Oct. 15. The author threatened to start "dumping" the poison if the trucking rule, which went into effect Jan. 4, wasn't stopped.

Ricin, a toxin that causes cell and organ failure, is made from easy-to-find castor beans, but experts say that, unlike anthrax, it can't cause mass casualties. "It's not a big threat.  It's the equivalent of mailing rat poison to somebody," said Randall Larsen, founder of Homeland Security Associates, a consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. "This fits in the category of kook rather than terrorist." 

The FBI, which handles criminal cases, is the lead agency investigating all three letters. 

Senators and their staffs will be allowed to return today to the Russell office building. The Hart office building will open tomorrow. The Dirksen office building, where the ricin was discovered, is scheduled to reopen Monday. 

The reopening of the D.C. postal facility and Gainer's comment were reported by The Associated Press.

Posted 2/4/2004 11:24 PM     Updated 2/4/2004 11:30 PM

Secret Service investigated ricin quietly

By Richard Benedetto, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Hardly a day goes by without someone phoning or mailing a threat against the president to the White House. But the public seldom finds out. The Secret Service investigates quietly.  Threats rarely become public unless an arrest is made or public safety is endangered.

Federal officials say that's why there was no disclosure for three months after a letter containing a small amount of low-grade ricin, a poison, turned up at a screening center for White House mail on Nov. 6. (Related story:Feds didn't report ricin for five days)

The mail-processing center is at an undisclosed location several miles from the White House.

When ricin was discovered Monday in a letter in the Capitol Hill mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., authorities revealed that a similar letter addressed to the White House had been discovered Nov. 6. It tested positive for ricin Nov. 7. 

After the White House letter became known, reporters peppered White House press secretary Scott McClellan at his daily briefing Wednesday with questions about how threats against the president are handled and what the procedures are for informing law enforcement agencies, health officials, mail handlers, other government workers, congressional leaders and the public. 

McClellan said the Nov. 6 letter was not made public because an FBI investigation was underway and the quantity of poison was too small to be a health hazard. He added, "Unfortunately, there are some people in this world that are seeking to either carry out pranks or make some serious threats. And we appreciate the work of the Secret Service that they do to address each and every one of these matters." 

McClellan and a spokeswoman for the Secret Service declined to outline specific procedures or guidelines. 

As it turned out, five days passed between the first positive test for ricin and notification by the Secret Service to the White House.

The White House then informed the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Postal Service and other agencies.

President Bush was not informed at that time. 

"The president is notified if there is a public health risk, and in this particular case, there was no public health risk," McClellan said. "Certainly he has been briefed on the ongoing investigation into this matter." 

Postal workers were not informed because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined they were not in danger, according to Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan. 

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said, "Those who needed to know about it and needed to act upon it were aware of it."

An administration official familiar with the investigation said that if the poison had been the far more dangerous anthrax, more extensive precautions would have been taken.

The Secret Service attributed the delay to the time between receipt of the suspicious letter and notification of the White House and other agencies to a need to do more thorough tests and an intervening weekend and Veterans Day holiday. 

The Secret Service took responsibility for the delay.

"We recognize now the need, and we have made changes in our protocols to ensure in the future that prompt notifications are made to our law enforcement and public health partners," spokeswoman Ann Roman said. 

Contributing: Mimi Hall and Toni Locy 

Search Widens for Source of Ricin in D.C. 

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer 
Thu, Feb 05, 2004

WASHINGTON - Investigators expanded their search Thursday for the source of ricin discovered on Capitol Hill after intensive testing of a Senate office mailroom failed to turn up the deadly poison's origin. 

The ricin was discovered in Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office. Law enforcement officials say no letter or note has been found indicating how it got there, who was behind it and whether the Tennessee Republican was the target. 

"We're not at the point in time where we can say how it was delivered," said Michael Mason, assistant FBI director in charge of the Washington field office. "We have not found a hot letter." 

Mail has been the primary focus of the probe since Monday, when an intern found a small amount of ricin on a mail-sorting machine in Frist's office. But no further ricin or other evidence was in the stacks of letters nearby.

Because no answers have come from mail or items in the mailroom, investigators now must consider if the ricin was placed on the machine by someone or if it had spilled out of an older letter and been there for a long time. If so, investigators would have to trace the paths of these older letters, some of which may have been destroyed. 

"We are taking a look at every possible angle," Mason said.

The discovery prompted the closure of three Senate office buildings, one of which reopened Thursday, and decontamination procedures for staff and Capitol police officers who were at the scene. Ricin is a highly toxic substance with no known antidote. It can easily be made from castor beans. 

Although no one has become ill from the ricin, nine staffers in Frist's office have been asked to submit two blood samples to Navy medical researchers, Frist spokesman Nick Smith said. The aides were told it was to see if they had developed antibodies to the ricin, which might aid in development of an antidote. 

Investigators are interviewing people who visited the buildings before the ricin's discovery, as well as employees. They described everyone so far as cooperative. 

One Senate aide who was questioned and spoke on condition of anonymity said he had not been contacted for a second round and knew of no other staffers who were being questioned again. 

The intern who found the ricin, described as a college-age woman, was credited by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer with taking quick, decisive action when she found the substance. 

"The young intern knew enough about precautions and to be wary to sound the alarm," Gainer said. 

As the investigation progressed, life began returning to normal on Capitol Hill. 

The Russell Senate Office Building, the oldest and closest to the Capitol, reopened shortly after noon Thursday. Hill workers waited in lines dozens deep in the winter chill to return to return to their desks. 

"I'm anxious to get back to work because it's been so disorienting being out of my office," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who has been working out of a Capitol office since Monday. 

The other two office buildings are to reopen by Monday morning, though Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said all buildings could open Friday. 

The ricin investigation is not limited to Capitol Hill. Authorities are examining whether there is any link between the toxin found in Frist's office and that mailed in two letters by a self-styled "Fallen Angel" angered by new federal rules requiring greater rest periods for truck drivers. 

Those letters were found Oct. 15 at a mail facility in Greenville, S.C., and Nov. 6 at an offsite location where mail is processed for the White House. The "Fallen Angel" author, claiming to be a tanker fleet owner, threatens in both letters to "start dumping" more ricin if the new rules are not repealed. 

Gainer said investigators are not aware of any other communication from anyone called "Fallen Angel." But he added: "We are examining anything ricin-related." 

FBI agents have interviewed truckers and owners of trucking companies. 
                     ___ 

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Brad Foss and Nancy Zuckerbrod contributed to this story. 

Search for Senate Ricin Source Widens

Associated Press
Fri, Feb 06, 2004 

WASHINGTON - Searches of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's offices in Tennessee have uncovered no ricin or other evidence that might explain how the poison wound up in his Capitol Hill mailroom, officials said Friday. 

The senator's six offices in Tennessee reopened Thursday after being closed for two days while the FBI and other investigators checked the mail and searched for other evidence. Nothing was found, said a federal law enforcement source speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The inability to locate a piece of mail connected to the Senate ricin scare has led investigators to expand their probe to include the possibility that someone placed the poison in the mailroom in Frist's Washington office or that it arrived in an envelope or package that moved through the office before the poison was discovered Monday afternoon.

"We are taking a look at every possible angle," said Michael Mason, chief of the FBI's Washington field office. 

Mail has been the primary focus of the probe since an intern found a small amount of ricin on a mail-sorting machine in Frist's office. But no further ricin or other evidence was in the stacks of letters nearby. 

Investigators now must consider if the ricin was placed on the machine by someone or if it had spilled out of an older letter and been there for a long time. If so, investigators would have to trace the paths of these older letters, some of which may have been destroyed. 

The discovery of the poison prompted the closure of three Senate office buildings, two of which reopened Thursday, and decontamination procedures for staff and Capitol police officers who were at the scene.  Ricin is a highly toxic substance with no known antidote. It can easily be made from castor beans.

Although no one has become ill from the ricin, nine staffers in Frist's office were asked to submit two blood samples to Navy medical researchers, Frist spokesman Nick Smith said. The aides were told it was to see if they had developed antibodies to the ricin, which might aid in development of an antidote. 

Investigators are interviewing people who visited the buildings before the ricin's discovery, as well as employees. They described everyone so far as cooperative. 

One Senate aide who was questioned and spoke on condition of anonymity said he had not been contacted for a second round and knew of no other staffers who were being questioned again. 

As the investigation progressed, life began returning to normal on Capitol Hill. 

The Russell and Hart buildings opened Thursday. Frist said Friday an announcement would be made later in the day on when the third building, the Dirksen building where the ricin was found, was to reopen. 

The ricin investigation is not limited to Capitol Hill. Authorities are examining whether there is any link between the toxin found in Frist's office and that mailed in two letters by a self-styled "Fallen Angel" angered by new federal rules requiring longer rest periods for truck drivers. 

Those letters were found Oct. 15 at a mail facility in Greenville, S.C., and Nov. 6 at an offsite location where mail is processed for the White House. The "Fallen Angel" author, claiming to be a tanker fleet owner, threatens in both letters to "start dumping" more ricin if the new rules are not repealed. 

Posted on Sat, Feb. 07, 2004

WASHINGTON
U.S. asks truckers for help in ricin investigation

The investigation of a deadly poison found in a Senate mailroom extended to Tennessee, and truckers are being asked for useful clues.

BY CURT ANDERSON
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The ricin investigation has expanded to Tennessee and trucker radio shows, but investigators still had no clues about the origin of the poison found in a Senate office, officials said Friday.

Searches of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's six offices in his home state, plus those in the Capitol complex, were completed Thursday. Investigators have not found the letter or package the ricin may have spilled from, and no new traces of ricin have been discovered, said FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman.

All of Frist's offices are now reopened.

Investigators are trying to determine how a small amount of powdery ricin wound up on a mail-opening machine in Frist's office.  Discovery of the deadly toxin led the Senate to close down three office buildings this week. Ricin is a poison made from castor beans and has no known antidote.

The machine and all the letters from Frist's mailroom were taken to the Naval Medical Research Center in Maryland for further testing, Weierman said.

The Russell and Hart buildings reopened Thursday, with the Dirksen building where the ricin was found set to reopen Monday.

Frist told reporters Friday that the mail being opened just before the ricin was found was mostly from states other than Tennessee.  He said staffers had been opening the mail ''over the course of several hours'' before an intern found the ricin powder.

Frist also said he held a 30-minute conference call with 40 staffers who had been in closest proximity to the ricin. ''Everybody's OK,'' he said.

The ricin investigation has other connections to Tennessee. A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a letter containing a small vial of ricin and addressed to the White House, which was intercepted Nov. 6 by the Secret Service, bore a postmark from Chattanooga, Tenn.

That letter was nearly identical to one found at a mail-sorting facility in Greenville, S.C., on Oct. 15. The letters, signed ''Fallen Angel,'' complain about new rules requiring more rest for truckers and threaten use of more ricin if the rules are not repealed.

Tom O'Neill, spokesman for the FBI in Columbia, S.C., said federal agents have persuaded two popular trucker radio programs -- 'Truckin' Bozo'' and ''Satellite Cowboy'' -- to publicize the case and the $100,000 reward being offered by the FBI, Transportation Department and Postal Inspection Service.

The agencies also have been following trucker-oriented Internet sites and putting information about the mailings out on some of them, officials said. The ''Fallen Angel'' letters identify the author as the owner of a tanker fleet.

Frist's office combed for ricin

By KARY BOOHER
The Jackson (TN) Sun
kbooher@jacksonsun.com
Feb 7 2004

Jim Humphreys, the local field representative for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, isn't too worried now about the possibility of ricin being found in Frist's downtown Jackson office.

The handling of delivered mail is another matter. "I think we're reviewing all of our policies," Humphreys said Friday after the Associated Press reported that federal officials have expanded their ricin investigation into Tennessee.

The Tennessee Republican's downtown Jackson office, located at 200 E. Main St., was closed Tuesday and Wednesday after the Federal Bureau of Investigation from Memphis and local HAZMAT crews combed through the office mail, Humphreys said. 

However, samples that were taken did not test positive for ricin, which is a toxin made from castor beans that has no known antidote, said George Bold, media coordinator for the FBI's Memphis office. Bold said several areas of the local office, including tables and places where mail had been processed, were touched with swab pads to retrieve samples.

Investigators are trying to determine how a small amount of powdery ricin wound up on a mail-opening machine in Frist's office in Washington, D.C. Discovery of the deadly toxin led the Senate to close down three office buildings at the Capitol this week.

Searches of Frist's six offices in his home state, plus those in the Capitol complex, were completed Thursday. Investigators have not found the letter or package the ricin may have spilled from, and no new traces of ricin have been discovered, said FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman. All of Frist's offices - in Kingsport, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, Jackson and Memphis, and at the Capitol - are now reopened.

Humphreys said he spent Tuesday and Wednesday using a laptop computer from home and also was on the road. On Tuesday afternoon, workers whose offices share the first floor of the downtown building with Frist's office said they were not overly concerned about ricin. A worn note taped to the office door read, "Please leave packages by the door."

Humphreys said Frist's office will reconsider the way it receives incoming mail, adding that police who work on Capitol Hill in Washington performed a security assessment of his office and will offer suggestions.

"It just makes us wonder if we need to be alert for anything," Humphreys said. "I wouldn't say I'm overly concerned. I'm just going to play closer attention."

Meanwhile, more tests are being conducted on the samples taken from the Jackson office, Bold said. However, those are being done as more of a second precautionary measure, he said.

The ricin investigation has other connections to Tennessee. A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a letter containing a small vial of ricin and addressed to the White House, which was intercepted Nov. 6 by the Secret Service, bore a postmark from Chattanooga, Tenn.

That letter was nearly identical to one found at a mail-sorting facility in Greenville, S.C., on Oct. 15. The letters, signed "Fallen Angel,'' complain about new rules requiring more rest for truckers and threaten use of more ricin if they are not repealed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 - Kary Booher, (731) 425-9680

IN BRIEF / WASHINGTON, D.C.
February 8, 2004

FBI Uses DNA Analysis to Pinpoint Ricin Source
From Times Wire Reports

Using DNA analysis, federal authorities are trying to glean clues about the source of ricin found in a Senate mailroom and in two earlier letter mailings, including where castor plants used to make the poisons were grown. 

Lee Browning, a researcher with a Texas seed company who has consulted with the FBI about ricin production, said a DNA analysis will show "if it's coming from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida or Texas." 

Authorities have not found the source of ricin discovered in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), or of samples found last year in postal facilities serving the White House.

Monday, Feb. 16, 2004
Time Magazine

Homegrown Terror
A potent poison. A Senate mail room. Echoes of the unsolved anthrax attacks—with a dash of angry truckers
By MICHAEL D. LEMONICK

After anthrax-tainted letters began showing up in the wake of 9/11, authorities quickly suggested that this was probably a case of homegrown terrorism rather than Round 2 of al-Qaeda's assault on the U.S. The likely perpetrator, many still believe, was a malevolent nerd with chemistry-lab expertise and a grudge against the government. But when traces of the biological toxin ricin showed up in Senator Bill Frist's mail room last week, the FBI and other agencies declared there was no evidence pointing to either a foreign culprit or a mad scientist. One possibility under examination: a good ole boy who knows his way around 18-wheelers, weigh stations and CB radios.

That would be consistent with two unsolved ricin-in-the-mail incidents that occurred last fall. They didn't create much of a panic, and despite the evacuation of three Senate office buildings last week, neither did the ricin found under a mail-opening machine on Capitol Hill. Ricin is a potent enough poison, and terrorist groups from al-Qaeda to the Iraq-based Ansar al-Islam have reportedly produced it for use as a biological weapon. So, evidently, did Saddam Hussein before the first Gulf War. 

But ricin isn't especially good as a weapon of mass destruction. It's easy to make, using a recipe you can get off the Internet. It comes from the castor bean, which is used around the world in products ranging from laxatives to brake fluid to nylon, and also grows wild in the southwestern U.S., so there's no shortage of raw material. But unlike anthrax, ricin is tough to aerosolize and inhale; the easiest way to deliver a fatal dose is injection or ingestion, and you need a lot for the latter. Ricin is powerful, but it's a retail, not a wholesale, poison. 

That's why ricin once enjoyed a certain cachet among international men of mystery. Every spywatcher knows about Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov, who was assassinated in London in 1978 in a ploy that James Bond or Austin Powers would appreciate: a shadowy stalker jabbed Markov in the leg with an umbrella rigged to inject a pellet of ricin under his skin (the killer was never found, but the KGB and the Bulgarian secret service were prime suspects). 

More recently, the handful of ricin cases pursued by the FBI have involved domestic hotheads, not international spies. In 1995, for example, two Minnesota men associated with a tax-protest group called the Patriots Council were convicted for possessing ricin with the intent of using it as a weapon. And in 1993, Canadian customs agents found ricin along with four guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition and some neo-Nazi literature in the car of an Arkansas survivalist crossing into Canada.

Then last October someone hand-delivered a package to a mail-sorting center near Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina. Inside the package, which was addressed to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), was a metal vial filled with ricin. A label read, "Caution ricin poison enclosed in sealed container. Do not open without proper protection," and a letter demanded repeal of federal rules mandating 10 hours of rest in every 24 for long-haul truckers. Otherwise the sender, who signed the letter "Fallen Angel" and claimed to be "a fleet owner of a tanker company," would pour ricin into the local water supply. "Keep at eight [hours] or I will start dumping," said the note. 

The FBI gave polygraph tests to the mail facility's 36 employees and to local truck drivers, and in early November asked the American Trucking Association to notify members to look out for anyone acting aggressively or suspiciously. But even as the word was going out, another letter containing a vial of ricin turned up on Nov. 6 at a White House mail-handling facility at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Postmarked Chattanooga, Tenn., it too was addressed to the DOT, via the White House. And like the first letter, it carried a warning label and a demand from Fallen Angel to ease trucking rules. That incident was never made public. Nearly a week passed before the Secret Service, which had intercepted the letter, notified the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Homeland Security—a delay that rankled those agencies. The Secret Service has promised to revise its protocols. But it's also important to remember, says a law-enforcement source, that "ricin is not a living, flesh-eating bacteria, like anthrax, so our response is much different." 

Beyond that, investigators tell TIME that the powder found in Frist's mail room was mostly paper dust, with traces of ricin so minute, they can't even be evaluated for particle size or purity. No envelope or note has been found, and no other piece of mail from the Senate has even a trace of ricin on it. Neither do any door sills, doorknobs, railings or surfaces anywhere in the building. Same goes for air filters, which should catch floating particles. 

That leads to a couple of theories. Perhaps an envelope in Frist's mail room contained a letter that was forwarded to the DOT, where Fallen Angel's grudge is aimed. Or maybe the letter was simply sent by someone who had previously handled ricin. "Let's say he didn't send us any product," says an investigator. "He's just sloppy. It's on his fingers, on his hands, or he's using the same envelopes, same paper. That may be why we don't have anything." 

Still, it's worrisome to know that anyone is sending lethal substances through the U.S. mail - and getting away with it. The FBI has spent 251,000 man-hours on the anthrax case, conducted 15 searches, interviewed 5,000 people and served 4,000 subpoenas - without an arrest. (Steven Hatfill, a former government bioweapons expert once described by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" in the case, is suing the U.S. government for violating both his constitutional rights and internal Justice Department rules against leaks. He has strongly denied accusations that he is behind the mailings.) 

Now officials have another bioweapons correspondent to worry about—or maybe more than one. Without a note or an envelope, it's unclear whether this is related to the Fallen Angel incidents. If there was what the media are calling a "smoking letter," it may have long since gone out with the trash. Without even that much of a clue, the best that authorities can do is look for forwarded letters, reinterview Frist staff members, examine suspicious mail the Senator has got over the years—and hope that a tip or a slipup puts the latest mad mailer out of circulation. 

Reported by Elisabeth Kauffman/Nashville and Viveca Novak and Elaine Shannon/Washington

FBI DIRECTOR PREDICTS SUCCESS IN RICIN, ANTHRAX PROBES

Reporter: Associated Press
2/13/2004 9:04:49 AM

FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday that anthrax and ricin attacks on Washington offices will be solved and the country is a safer place since the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks thanks in part to local vigilance.

"I wouldn't give up," Mueller said when asked about the 2001 anthrax attack on government and news media offices in Washington and the more recent discovery of ricin in the mailroom of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

"The investigations are still going and I am confident that we will have success in each of those investigations," Mueller told reporters after touring the FBI's East Tennessee regional offices in Knoxville.

Five people died and 17 others were sickened when anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed in the fall of 2001 to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy, both Democrats.

Last week, a small amount of the powdery poison ricin was found on the mail-opening machine in the Capitol office of Frist, now Senate majority leader. No one became ill, but three office buildings were closed for nearly a week.

Since then, it has been reported that the Secret Service intercepted a letter Nov. 6 addressed to the White House that contained a small vial of ricin. The letter, complaining about new rules requiring more rest for truckers, bore a Chattanooga postmark.

"That report I have not heard and I am not certain is accurate," Mueller said when asked about the Chattanooga postmark. "I will tell you the investigation in Washington is ongoing."

The FBI director suggested this is new territory for the agency.

"It is a little bit different with the biological attacks such as anthrax or ricin in the sense that you don't have fingerprints. You don't have bullets. You don't have some of the forensics that you will see in other crimes.

"Nonetheless, since the anthrax attacks we and other agencies have learned a tremendous amount about the genetic makeup of these substances. So we are much better prepared today to identify ... the possible processes used to manufacture these substances than we were before."

Mueller said the capture of al-Qaida planners abroad, the removal of their training camps in Afghanistan and a more vigilant domestic effort involving state and local law enforcement are bearing results in the war on terrorism.

"For those reasons, the country as a whole, but East Tennessee as well, is a safer place from the threat of terrorism than it was prior to Sept. 11," he said.

John Sterling, East Tennessee coordinator for the state Office of Homeland Security, said Thursday there are "no known terrorist cells operating in Tennessee."

"Now we are trying to make sure that Tennessee is as safe a place as we can make it. That's why we are working with federal, state and local partners to build district counter-terror capabilities," he said.

"The bottom line is we are trying to make Tennessee as unattractive as we can. That is what we are working diligently to promote," Sterling said.

Mueller said because of the FBI's new emphasis on terrorism, it may be less involved in bank robbery cases that don't cross county lines or drug cases. But he said the FBI will continue to support state and local law enforcement in fighting gang activity.

"When it comes to crime in our communities ... to the extent we can help, we will," he said.

FBI takes records from trucking company in ricin probe

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 17

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- 

The chairman of a company that trucks mail between postal centers says the FBI has reviewed his firm's employee records as part of an investigation into ricin found at a Greenville mail center.

Federal agents wanted the records of workers and truckers who had access to the mail center where the deadly poison was left in October, said James R. Malone, chairman and CEO of Mail Contractors of America.

The FBI didn't tell Malone why they wanted to see the records.

"Clearly, we would be very willing and enthusiastic about helping with the investigation in any manner, shape or form," Malone said. "Obviously, we want whoever it is to be caught as quickly as possible."

The FBI field office in Columbia did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

A letter accompanying the ricin found at the mail center and a similar letter containing ricin intercepted before it reached its intended destination at the White House complain about new federal trucking regulations.

"I don't want to think one of our truckers did this," Malone said.

A small amount of ricin also was discovered on a mail-opening machine in the Washington offices of U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., two weeks ago, but investigators have not been able to trace that ricin to any letter or envelope.

Mail Contractors, based in Little Rock, Ark., has about 1,400 employees, most of them truckers, he said. The company has been carrying U.S. mail for more than 40 years.

Malone said his company no longer runs the route involving the airport postal center.

Information from: The Greenville News

NBC News: 
Ricin Tests May Have Been Wrong

Scare Closed Three Senate Buildings

POSTED: 4:29 pm EST February 18, 2004
UPDATED: 4:39 pm EST February 18, 2004

WASHINGTON -- There is a new theory emerging tonight about the ricin scare two weeks ago.

NBC News reports that investigators are looking into the possibility that there was no ricin attack in the first place.

The poison was discovered on a machine used to open envelopes in the Dirksen Senate office building.

Dirksen and two other buildings were closed for several days.

There are several reasons for the new theory. Investigators haven't been able to determine an apparent source of the ricin, and the amounts found were extremely small.

Also, since ricin comes from the castor bean, and some nontoxic parts of the plant are used to make paper, it might be possible that the tests found traces of the plant, but not ricin.

Investigators said there are no solid leads and this is just one of several theories.

FBI circulates leaflets around Chattanooga in its ricin probe

The Tennessean
Associated Press
Friday, 02/20/04

CHATTANOOGA — Letters containing deadly ricin intercepted by postal workers and the Secret Service prompted a mailing of reward leaflets in southeastern Tennessee and northwestern Georgia, an FBI agent said this week.

''We had a letter that was located here in Greenville (S.C.) and another letter that was processed through the Chattanooga area,'' said Ann Middleton, a supervisor in the bureau's field office in Greenville.

A federal law enforcement official, who asked not to be identified, previously told The Associated Press that a letter with a small vial of ricin and addressed to the White House bore a Chattanooga postmark. The Secret Service intercepted the letter Nov. 6.

That letter was nearly identical to the one found at the South Carolina mail-sorting facility Oct. 15. The letters, signed ''Fallen Angel,'' complain about new rules requiring more rest for truck drivers.

Ricin is a toxin made from castor beans and has no known antidote. No one was injured by the mailings, authorities said.

Middleton said the leaflets promote a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the ricin mailings.

''We have a tip line here, and we are trying to find out who may have information,'' she said. The toll-free number is 866-839-6241.

''We are just trying to send it to an area where we thought there may have been some activity,'' Middleton said.

The leaflets also contain a portion of a note that accompanied the South Carolina letter that contained ricin. ''To the Department of Transportation,'' the note says. ''I have easy access to castor pulp. If my demand is dismissed, I'm capable of making ricin. … You have been warned.''

''We have received a request from the FBI to distribute the reward posters,'' Chattanooga Postal Inspector Mike Owens said. He said thousands of the mailings were delivered.

In Ringgold, Ga., Julia Graham said she and her Massengale Road neighbors had received the flier and that said she was alarmed by its contents. ''It's kind of frightening to think there's somebody out there who's that sick,'' she told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The two ricin mailings have not been linked to ricin discovered Jan. 2 in the mail room of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Middleton said.

Anthrax attacks stump FBI, but remain priority

By Matthew Cella and Guy Taylor
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
February 23, 2004

The FBI official in charge of the probe into the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings said the investigation still has top priority among the bureau's unsolved cases, but he acknowledged the anthrax sender may never be caught.

"Despite our very, very, very best efforts, we still might not be able to bring it home," said Assistant Director Michael A. Mason, who heads the FBI's Washington field office, which is investigating the case. 

"This would not be the first case in the FBI's history that remained unsolved," he said. "It simply happens to be the first case that has received this level of publicity that has not yet been solved."

Mr. Mason said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III continues to receive weekly briefings on the probe 28 months after the mailings. "I would say the anthrax case is the director's number one priority," he said. "This is a case the director feels we must solve — period."

In a meeting Friday with reporters from The Washington Times, Mr. Mason discussed the anthrax probe as well as the investigation into this month's discovery of poisonous ricin in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

Investigators continue to sort through letters from Mr. Frist's mailroom, he said. He dismissed reports that the substance had not been ricin but rather a harmless paper byproduct.

"That's not the case," Mr. Mason said, adding that he had received confirmation from the chief FBI scientist Friday that the substance was ricin.  "We did not shut down the whole of government for envelope droppings."

Although the ricin case "remains a mystery," Mr. Mason said, there was "no apparent linkage" to the anthrax attacks, in which deadly spores of the bacteria were mailed to senators on Capitol Hill and to news outlets in Florida and New York in the weeks after the September 11 hijackings.

Mr. Mason has said leaks to reporters about the anthrax case were damaging. He spoke cautiously about the investigation into the poisoned letters, which caused five deaths in October and November 2001. 

"We have strict instructions as far as what not to talk about as far as anthrax goes," said Mr. Mason, who took over the investigation last year after Van A. Harp retired as head of the Washington field office. 

Mr. Mason said he couldn't discuss an anonymous letter received by the FBI in the weeks before the anthrax attacks, which accused an Egyptian-born scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency of plotting biological warfare against the United States.

The Times reported last week that the FBI recently had questioned at least one other EPA scientist about the anonymous letter, which accused EPA toxicologist Ayaad Assaad of being a religious fanatic with the means to use bioterrorism weapons.

Asked whether the FBI was investigating any connection between the anthrax mailings and the anonymous letter, Mr. Mason told The Times: "I just can't talk about that. I can't talk about that letter." 

Pressed about the significance of the anonymous letter, given to the FBI after it had been sent to police in Quantico, Va., in October 2001, Mr. Mason said flatly that "the letter is not a priority."

Mr. Assaad developed a ricin vaccine at Fort Detrick, Md., and is regarded as one of the top U.S. authorities on ricin.  Mr. Mason said the leading theory in the ricin probe is that the toxin — which is derived from the castor bean plant — was mailed to Mr. Frist's office, although investigators have yet to identify an envelope in which it might have been mailed.

He said FBI agents working jointly with U.S. Capitol Police still are searching for any connection between the ricin found in the Senate leader's office and other letters containing ricin discovered last year, one at a Greenville, S.C., postal facility in October and another sent to the White House in November. 

Those letters were signed by "Fallen Angel," who said he was angry about new federal laws regulating truckers' driving hours. 

White House Letter With Ricin Released

Monday February 23, 2004 6:46 PM

By CURT ANDERSON 

Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON (AP) - A letter containing ricin sent last year to the White House threatened to turn Washington into a ``ghost town'' if new trucking safety regulations went into effect, according to a copy of the letter released Monday by the FBI. 

The letter, one of two intercepted last year that were signed``Fallen Angel,'' bore an Oct. 17 postmark from Chattanooga, Tenn. It was addressed to the White House and was discovered by the Secret Service at a Washington offsite mail processing facility in early November. 

The White House letter was typewritten on what appears to be yellow legal paper. Although it was addressed to the White House, the letter begins with ``department of transportation'' and then says: 

``If you change the hours of service on January 4, 2004, I will turn D.C. into a ghost town. The powder on the letter is RICIN.  Have a nice day. Fallen Angel.'' 

A similar ricin-laced letter was found Oct. 15 at a mail processing facility in Greenville, S.C. In both cases, the author complained about new regulations that mandate more periods of rest for long-haul truckers. 

Many truckers and companies have raised concerns about lost pay and productivity because of stricter rest requirements. 

The South Carolina letter also claimed that the author was the owner of a tanker fleet company and had access to large amounts of pulp from castor plants, which are the source of the poison ricin. 

Investigators are also trying to determine the source of a small amount of ricin found earlier this month on a mail-opening machine in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.  No envelope or threatening letter has been found in that case. 

No one has been sickened in any of the cases, but on Capitol Hill three Senate office buildings were closed for several days after the ricin was discovered there.

The FBI, Postal Inspection Service and Transportation Department are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the author of the threatening letters. The FBI is also operating a toll-free tipline in the case at 1-866-839-6241.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004 

Union: Postal workers weren't told of ricin

By Leigh Strope 
The Associated Press 

WASHINGTON — Postal Service workers weren't told they had been exposed to the deadly poison ricin found last year in a letter intercepted before reaching the White House, the head of the largest postal union said yesterday, accusing the government of a double standard that favors politicians.

Workers "will not be treated like a canary in the mining industry," said William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 366,000 clerks, maintenance employees, motor-vehicle operators and other workers. 

Burrus was testifying at a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the future of the Postal Service and its work force. 

The letter, released Monday by the FBI, was signed "Fallen Angel" and had an Oct. 17 postmark from Chattanooga, Tenn. It was addressed to the White House and was intercepted Nov. 6 by the Secret Service at an offsite mail processing facility in Washington. 

The Postal Service referred questions about Burrus' criticism to the Secret Service.

Ann Roman, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said it had notified the FBI, the Postal Service and other government agencies Nov. 12 that the letter tested probable for the presence of ricin. It was up to other agencies to decide whether and how the information would be released, she said. 

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said that Homeland Security officials held a Nov. 13 conference call with the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Postal Service and other agencies to discuss what to do. 

Ultimately, the ricin in that letter was deemed to be of a low grade and not a threat to public health, so no announcement was made, McClellan has said. 

Burrus asked why postal workers who had probably handled the letter were not informed. 

"In the anthrax attacks, we rationalized the disparate treatment of postal employees as compared to the occupants of Senate office buildings, but the ricin attacks expose the fact that there is a double standard," he said.

Two postal workers in Washington were among five people who died from anthrax exposure in 2001 after letters laced with the lethal bacteria were sent to two senators. 

Burrus said the union and its members did not know about the incident last fall until another ricin discovery earlier this month, this one on a mail-opening machine in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. 

The union was notified of the Feb. 2 discovery, said spokeswoman Sally Davidow. Three Senate office buildings were closed for several days afterward. 

Investigators have not found the letter or package from which the ricin may have spilled, and no new traces of ricin have been discovered.

Posted on Wed, Mar. 10, 2004

Investigators Struggle With Ricin Probe

CURT ANDERSON
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The investigation into how ricin made its way to a Capitol Hill mailroom has yet to turn up a suspect, a source for the deadly poison or a link to two earlier ricin-laced letters.

Investigators hope scientists can provide a forensic fingerprint to help crack the case. Five government labs have been analyzing the poison to try to determine how it was made and where it came from.

Michael A. Mason, chief of the FBI's Washington field office and head of the investigation, said the goal is to find distinguishing characteristics that allow scientists to match the poison to some previously discovered ricin.

"It's way too early to conclude that we've reached a dead end or a crossroads," he said.

The small amount of ricin was discovered Feb. 2 on a mail-opening machine in the office suite of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. The discovery led to a shutdown of three Senate office buildings for several days, and about two dozen staffers and Capitol police officers underwent decontamination.

The incident followed the Oct. 15 discovery of an envelope in a Greenville, S.C., postal center containing a vial of ricin and a threatening letter addressed to the federal Transportation Department. The letter, signed "Fallen Angel," objected to new rules for longhaul truckers. A similar letter, postmarked Oct. 17 in Chattanooga, Tenn., and addressed to the White House, was intercepted by the Secret Service at a government mail facility in the nation's capital.

No connections have been established between the Capitol Hill incident and the two "Fallen Angel" letters.

Ricin can be fatal if ingested, inhaled or injected. There is no antidote. However, no one has been hurt in any of the incidents.

Investigators in the Frist case initially suspected the poison arrived in a letter but found nothing, even after searching through some 5,000 pieces of mail on Capitol Hill and thousands of others in his Tennessee offices.

"We're still working to determine how it came in," Mason said.

Lab tests have determined that the material in Frist's office suite was ricin - which is made from common castor beans - and not a false positive caused by castor pulp that is sometimes used to make paper for envelopes. Some investigators had floated that theory because of the lack of other evidence.

Without a letter or envelope, forensic specialists are focusing on analyzing the ricin itself for any distinguishing characteristics, such as an additive that makes it easier to inhale, said Lawrence Kobilinsky, professor of forensic sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

There also could be trace materials found with the ricin that would provide clues about its origin, such as metals or dust specific to a certain geographic location, he said.

"It's a very tough situation," Kobilinsky said. "They might want to compare the ricin from the previous attacks to this, to see if there is some peculiarity, some trace material that's in the powder itself that could mean it's from the same batch, or a different batch."

Yet another complication is the relative ease with which a person could make ricin. Unlike anthrax spores, ricin requires little scientific training to engineer and is not nearly as dangerous to handle.

Investigators have focused on truckers and trucking companies in the "Fallen Angel" case, searching for someone disgruntled enough by the new regulations to have taken a drastic step.  Tom O'Neill, spokesman for the FBI's field office in Columbia, S.C., said authorities are hoping a $100,000 reward will help.

The ricin cases have some parallels with the investigation into anthrax-laced letters sent to government and media offices in the fall of 2001. Five people died and 17 were sickened. That case also remains unsolved.

The Seattle Times
Friday, April 16, 2004, 12:00 a.m. Pacific

FBI OK'd ricin-case shipment

By The Associated Press

A seed-company employee in New York says the FBI told her to ship an unusually large order of castor seeds, which can be used to make ricin, to a Kirkland man, who subsequently was arrested and charged with possessing the deadly toxin.

Office manager Kristina Damico, of Sheffield's Seed in Locke, N.Y., said she called a federal terrorism hotline in November about the suspiciously big order for castor seeds, the key ingredient in ricin.

An FBI agent told her in December to send the seeds, Damico said in a telephone interview Wednesday. On April 8, another FBI agent contacted her, asked some questions and requested that the documents concerning the order be faxed to him, she said.

The next day in Kirkland, FBI agents allegedly found ricin in the apartment of Robert M. Alberg, 37. He was arrested and charged with one count of possession of a biological agent or toxin.

Alberg, described in court documents as autistic, was held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.

Alberg's attorneys yesterday asked a federal magistrate for an extension in asking that he be released pending trial.

Alberg, whose family has said he has "medical and psychological conditions," is expected to undergo a psychological exam.

FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette in New York said yesterday that he would check into the matter but added that the Seattle FBI office was coordinating the case. The FBI in Seattle did not immediately return a phone call yesterday.

Damico said she called the terrorist hotline in New York City on Nov. 4 about the castor-seed order. A typical order would be one or two packets of the seeds, used by gardeners to grow ornamental plants, she said. A 5-pound order would be 430 packets with 12 seeds in a packet, or more than 5,000 seeds. Any order that big would cause her to call the FBI, she said.

An FBI agent contacted her within a few days and asked about the name of the person, type of order and his address, she said.

On Dec. 2, she called the agent again, asking whether she should process the order. He called back Dec. 3 or 4 and told her to send it, she said.

Damico said she mailed the seeds to Alberg in Kirkland on Dec. 5.

On April 8, another agent contacted her, asking for the documents about the sale to be faxed to him, she said. Alberg was arrested April 9.

FBI agents have said ricin was found in Alberg's apartment on a relative's property.

Ricin can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or injected. There is no antidote. Ricin is relatively easy to make and requires little scientific training to engineer.

Alberg's father, Tom Alberg, is managing director of Madrona Venture Group, a Pacific Northwest venture-capital firm, and a board member and early investor in Amazon.com.

Seattle Times reporter Maureen O'Hagan contributed to this report.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

Ricin case took 4 months to get off the ground

Friday, April 16, 2004

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

Four months lapsed between the time a seed company worker alerted the FBI that a Kirkland man had bought unusually large amounts of the key ingredient for the deadly poison ricin and federal agents made an arrest.

FBI agents arrested Robert Alberg, 37, of Kirkland earlier this month. Yesterday at a brief court hearing, he was ordered to remain in federal detention.

The case began last fall.

Office manager Kristina Damico of Sheffield's Seed Co. in Locke, N.Y., told The Associated Press that she called a federal terrorist hot line in November about a 5-pound order for castor seeds, which is needed for making ricin.

An FBI agent told her in December to go ahead and send the seeds, Damico said.

Federal criminal justice sources told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that seed company personnel originally reported in November that only 5 grams of seeds were sold.

When agents followed up by questioning seed company personnel, they were told that Alberg had later made an order for almost 5 pounds, but that Sheffield had never honored the request. Because of the size of the 5-gram sale and the fact that the seeds are legal to possess, agents were not concerned, the sources said.

Attempts to reach Damico for clarification last night were unsuccessful. It is not known whether Sheffield personnel gave agents incorrect information, agents misunderstood them or if there was a communications breakdown between FBI agents in New York and their colleagues in Seattle.

In late March, Seattle FBI agents discovered that Sheffield had sent a 4.7-pound shipment of castor seeds in December to Alberg. Within a few days, biotoxin and hazardous-materials experts had flown to Seattle from FBI headquarters and raided Alberg's Kirkland apartment.

Special Agent in Charge Pat Adams of the FBI's Seattle office said yesterday, "Because this is a pending investigation, the FBI is severely limited as to the extent to which we can discuss the details of this investigation. What we should keep in mind is that charges were filed against Robert Alberg and that no harm resulted from his purchase of the castor beans."

There was no indication that Alberg planned to use the ricin, federal criminal justice sources said earlier this week.

Sources said the FBI is working closely with the family, which has cooperated in the investigation and was grateful for the way agents and prosecutors are dealing with their mentally disturbed son.

Both defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed yesterday to keep Alberg in custody at the federal prison at SeaTac because an appropriate residential placement could not be found. Alberg will be isolated from the general population at the prison, according to a lawyer familiar with the case.

Court documents and the Alberg family stated that Robert Alberg suffers from autism, a mental disorder marked by profound impairment in social interactions and which can include strange or abnormally intense preoccupations.

Damico said she called the terrorist hot line in New York City on Nov. 4 about the order she received for 5 pounds of castor seeds.

Damico said a typical order would be one or two packets of the seeds, used by gardeners to grow ornamental plants, she said. A 5-pound order would be 430 packets with 12 seeds in a packet, or more than 5,000 seeds. Any order that big would cause her to call the FBI, she said.

An FBI agent contacted her within a few days and asked about the name of the person, type of order and his address, she said.

On Dec. 2, she called the agent again, asking whether she should process the order or not. He called back on Dec. 3 or 4 and told her to send it, she said.

On April 8, another agent contacted her, asked for all the information and requested that the documents be faxed, she said. Alberg was arrested April 9.

"I don't know if they were working behind the scenes, you never know what the FBI is doing," Damico said Wednesday about the four-month delay.

FBI agents have said ricin was found in Alberg's apartment on a relative's property.

Ricin can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or injected. There is no antidote.

Suspect had the makings of ricin
By Leslie Hague and Garrett Ordower Daily Herald Staff Writers
Posted 8/31/2004

Weapons, ammunition and suspicious chemicals -- including the precursor to the toxic agent ricin -- were found Sunday in the home of Steven Aubrey, who is suspected of killing his wife last week before killing himself.

The FBI is investigating the presence of castor beans, from which the deadly poison ricin is made, at the Aurora townhouse, said Frank Bochte, an FBI spokesman.

There is no evidence that ricin was produced at the townhouse, and people in the area are not in any danger, he said. Castor beans by themselves are not illegal and have legitimate uses.

The FBI's hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction teams are investigating anything in the house that could be used to produce ricin, Bochte said.

Aurora police went to the house on Hillsboro Avenue in Aurora about 10:45 a.m. Sunday to execute a search warrant, Aurora police spokesman Dan Ferrelli said.

When they saw the suspicious chemicals, they backed out and called the DuPage County bomb squad to investigate.

About 20 houses in the neighborhood were evacuated until about 7 p.m. Sunday.

The materials that police could identify and were not harmful were destroyed by the bomb squad, Ferrelli said. The other materials were sent to the FBI for testing.

Everyone at the crime scene was decontaminated, which is normal for an instance involving suspicious chemicals, Ferrelli said.

Police won't fully investigate the scene until the FBI results come back, so Ferrelli said he couldn't comment on the number or nature of the stockpile found or what the chemicals might be.

"We do not definitively know what the substances were that were taken from that townhome, and until we get the results back from the FBI, it's just not appropriate to comment," Ferrelli said. "It's all speculation."

Aubrey on Thursday consented to a search as police questioned him about the disappearance of his 25-year-old wife, Erica Marie Aubrey. Police only had the voluntary waiver from Aubrey to search the townhouse and he cut officers off before they could complete it, Ferrelli said.

Police did confirm Aubrey's gun collection included handguns, automatic weapons, assault rifles and ammunition.

Court documents from Aubrey's 2002 divorce state that he had a gun collection worth $3,000. Teresa Paku, Aubrey's ex-wife, said his collection included an AR-15, AK-47, 9mm handgun, shotgun and a "sniper rifle."

The discovery of the cache of weapons and chemicals followed a week that saw a missing persons case become a carjacking, gunfight and, eventually, a murder-suicide, according to authorities.

Police believe that Aubrey killed his wife and later killed himself after a shootout with police.

Police found the body of Erica Marie Aubrey on Friday in a shallow grave near a house the couple owned near Marseilles in LaSalle County. The cause of death was strangulation, a coroner's report said.

The couple lived at the house until April, when a fire occurred there. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Serena Fire Protection District officials said.

Erica Marie Aubrey was reported missing Thursday after she didn't show up for work at the post office in Newark, near Marseilles.

Police questioned Aubrey, a 35-year-old former Yorkville High School student, on Thursday morning, but when they returned Thursday afternoon he was gone. Later, police heard that a man who fit Aubrey's description had carjacked a 1993 Buick Regal in LaSalle County.

That car was found at a Kendall County nursery near routes 34 and 30. Aubrey fled into a cornfield and at some point exchanged gunfire with police.

Aubrey's body was found about 3 a.m. Friday. He had suffered several gunshot wounds on his hands from police fire, authorities said, but an autopsy determined that the shot to the head that killed him was self-inflicted.

The couple's 2-year-old son was unharmed and is staying with relatives, police said.

• Daily Herald staff writer Adam Kovac contributed to this report.

Ricin found in Greenville last year could be linked to Illinois man's death last week

WISTV.com (Columbia, SC)

(Greenville-AP) Sept. 2, 2004 - The FBI is looking for possible links to a package containing ricin found at a Greenville mail center last year and the death of a trucker in Illinois last week.

Police investigating the death of 34-year-old Steven Aubrey in Aurora, Illinois, found castor beans and castor residue in his home. Castor beans can be used to make ricin.

The poison was found in a small vial last October 15th in a Greenville mail center with a note threatening to dump large quantities into water supplies if federal officials didn't repeal a trucking rule.

Officials would not say to whom the envelope was addressed or where it was postmarked. No one was hurt by the poison.

Police think the person who signed the note "Fallen Angel" in the Greenville incident was a trucker.

Aurora police say Aubrey shot himself August 26th after an exchange of gunfire with police. Aubrey had worked as a driver for mail-hauling company.

In January the the FBI announced a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is made from the waste left over from processing castor beans. The CDC says people can breathe in ricin mist or powder and be poisoned.

Depending on the type of exposure, such as injection, the CDC says as little as 500 micrograms of ricin could be enough to kill an adult. That dose would be about the size of the head of a pin.

Ricin is twice as deadly as cobra venom. It can cause fever, cough and chest tightness within eight hours after being ingested or inhaled. Death can come between 36 and 72 hours after exposure. There is no antidote.

FBI: 'no evidence of ricin' in trucker case

The Trucker
Sept. 7, 2004

CHICAGO -- An FBI spokesman said federal investigators found "no evidence of ricin" at the home of a trucker who allegedly strangled his wife before taking his own life in a shootout with police Sept. 1.

Special Agent Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman based in Chicago, said the agency dispatched a hazmat team to the Aurora, Ill., home of Steven Aubrey, a truck driver who also worked as an exotic dancer. Hazmat crew members "found a couple of castor beans, but no evidence of ricin or any evidence it was being made" at Aubrey's home, Rice said.

Once that determination was made, the FBI withdrew from the investigation, Rice added. Aurora police reported finding castor beans inside Aubrey's residence following the fatal shootout.

The Associated Press reported that Erica, 25, was a postal worker at Newark, Ill. She apparently had been strangled and buried prior to the shootout, police said, adding that her body was found in a shallow grave on the couple's property.

Authorities said there is no connection with the Aurora incident or one in which ricin was found at a Greenville mail center in October. Nor, they said, is there a link between the Aubrey investigation and the so-called "Fallen Angel" case.

--By Jerry Breeden

The Trucker Staff

Reward in ricin inquiry increased

By Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
December 23, 2004

A $120,000 reward is being offered by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI and the Transportation Department for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for mailing letters last year containing the deadly poison ricin and a ricin derivative.

A letter containing a small vial of ricin was found Oct. 15, 2003, at a mail processing facility in Greenville, S.C., signed by someone who identified himself as "Fallen Angel." The letter was addressed to the Transportation Department and complained about new trucking regulations that mandated additional rest periods for long-haul truckers. 

Although ricin can be fatal if ingested, inhaled, or injected and there is no known antidote, no was sickened in the incident.

A letter addressed to the White House, intercepted Nov. 6, 2003, contained a small vial of ricin. Bearing a Chattanooga, Tenn., postmark, the letter, like the one from Greenville, was signed by "Fallen Angel."

The White House letter, which threatened to turn the nation's capital "into a ghost town" if the new trucking regulations were not repealed, was discovered by the U.S. Secret Service at an off-site mail processing facility in the District.

A small amount of ricin also was found in February on a mail-opening machine in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. No envelope or threatening letter was found in that case. The ricin in Mr. Frist's office was described by the FBI as "trace amounts mixed in with paper dust." Forty-three letters eventually were tested for ricin, but proved negative.

The Postal Inspection Service, FBI and Transportation Department initially had offered a $100,000 reward in the case, but recently increased the amount.

Postal inspection authorities said those responsible for the letters may be connected to the trucking or transportation industry, but that any potential leads should be reported. Several truckers and trucking companies questioned the new regulations, saying they resulted in lost wages and reduced productivity because of stricter rest requirements.

The authorities said that on the exterior of the Greenville envelope was a typewritten warning: "Caution RICIN POISON enclosed in sealed container. Do not open without proper protection."

The authorities said the letter identified the sender as "a fleet owner of a tanker company" who had easy access to castor pulp, the source of the ricin. They said the sender warned that if his demand were dismissed, he was capable of making ricin.

"My demand is simple, January 4, 2004, starts the new hours of service for trucks which include a ridiculous ten hours in the sleeper berth. Keep at eight or I will start dumping. You have been warned this is the only letter that will be sent by me."

The authorities said anyone with information should call 866/839-6241.

Ricin is made from processed castor beans and, investigators said, would require a deliberate act to make and use it as a poison.

FBI says man made deadly toxin -- ricin

Authorities also seize pistols and assault weapons from the Ocala waiter, 22.

By Martin E. Comas and Pedro Ruz Gutierrez
Sentinel Staff Writers
The Orlando Sentinel

January 14, 2005

OCALA -- A 22-year-old unemployed waiter appeared before a federal judge Thursday to face charges he manufactured and illegally possessed the deadly biological agent ricin.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones delayed Steven Ekberg's bond hearing until Tuesday to give Ekberg's mother, Theresa Ekberg, time to hire an attorney. Steven Ekberg was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday evening at her home.

In court, Ekberg said he graduated from Forest High School in 2000 and studied at Central Florida Community College in Ocala for a career in law enforcement or as a security guard. State records show he has a concealed-weapons permit.

Ekberg said he is taking anti-depressant medication, including Xanax and Paxil, and receives psychiatric care and counseling.

"Do I feel he's a terrorist? No," said Ekberg's mother said as she left the federal courthouse. "There's no sinister motive behind this."

She said her son enjoys collecting "different and strange things. That's all."

Acting on a tip received by Marion County deputy sheriffs Jan. 1, federal, state and local agents began trailing Ekberg.

On Jan. 7, two undercover agents met Ekberg at the Croc Club lounge in Ocala.

According to sheriff's reports, Ekberg told the agents he usually carries three weapons with him. Ekberg lifted his left pant leg and showed them a .357-caliber Glock handgun in a holster strapped to his ankle.

Ekberg then told them he keeps another gun in his truck. Undercover agents walked outside with Ekberg and arrested him on charges of illegally possessing weapons inside a bar.

Agents also found .45-caliber handgun in his back pocket along with a small amount of cocaine inside a pill box, authorities said. Inside a backpack, agents found several live rounds for the weapons and a notebook with a recipe to manufacture an explosive, according to the sheriff's report.

Ekberg was charged with possession of cocaine, a felony, and a violation of a concealed-weapons permit, a misdemeanor, because he carried a gun into a bar, authorities said.

Later that night, agents searched the home on Southwest 10th Street, where they found several assault weapons, including an AK-47 rifle and an Uzi. All the weapons were seized.

Agents with the Marion County Fire Department's hazardous-materials team found a white powder inside a box at the residence. On Wednesday, a state lab in Jacksonville confirmed the substance was ricin.

At a news conference Thursday, federal agents and sheriff's officials said Ekberg appears to have acted alone.

"We do not feel Mr. Ekberg is associated with any terrorist organization or entity," said Chris Bonner, a senior FBI agent.

Bonner said manufacturing ricin is extremely dangerous if it is inhaled or ingested and can kill a person within hours.

Ricin is a poison that can be extracted from castor beans when castor oil is made. It gave Washington authorities a scare in 2004 when it was found in correspondence mailed to a U.S. senator, and in 2003 to the White House and the federal Department of Transportation.

If convicted, the maximum penalty Ekberg faces is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is being held at the Marion County Jail.

Martin E. Comas can be reached at mcomas@orlandosentinel.comor 352-742-5927. Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be reached at 407-420-5620 or pruz@orlandosentinel.com.

Florida man faces bioweapon charge
FBI says accused had poison ricin and several weapons

Friday, January 14, 2005 Posted: 6:48 AM EST (1148 GMT) 

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- An Ocala, Florida, man was arrested by the FBI after they found the biotoxin ricin in his possession in the home he shares with his mother.

Steven Michael Ekberg, 22, had at least 83 castor beans and other byproducts consistent with the manufacture of ricin in his possession, the FBI said.

Ricin is a poison that can be made from the waste from processing castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The former waiter also had several weapons, including an AK-47 and an Uzi, the FBI said.

Ekberg was taken into custody Wednesday night.

He is being charged with possession of a biological weapon.

"We are still investigating and are trying to determine what his intentions were, but we have no information that he released it to anyone," said FBI spokesman Jeff Westcott.

"We believe that he acquired the materials over the Internet, but we are still investigating," he said.

In their affidavit, FBI officials said they found a number of seeds in packaging that describes the material as "very poisonous."

They said they also found, in a cardboard box in Ekberg's room, glass vials containing white granules suspected of being husk-less, chopped castor beans, a byproduct of the manufacture of ricin.

The FBI said Ekberg has no known ties to terrorists or extremists.

A hazardous-materials team took the substance to the Florida Health Department laboratory in Jacksonville, where it was confirmed to be ricin, the FBI said.

FBI biohazard teams swept the house to ensure that no one in the neighborhood could become contaminated.

Ekberg was arrested on an unrelated weapons and narcotics charge last weekend by the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

According to the FBI affidavit, an anonymous source now acting as a confidential source called the sheriff's office and told authorities that Ekberg showed him the materials several months ago.

"If I put this on your food, this would kill you immediately," Ekberg allegedly told the source, pointing to the contents of a container, according to the affidavit.

He then picked up another container and stated words to the effect, "This would make you really sick," the source allegedly told authorities.

Picking up another container, he said, "This would kill you, but not right away."

The source told police that Ekberg had two books containing information on how to make poisons from household chemicals and plants, according to the affidavit.

Ekberg, who has a license to carry concealed weapons, was in possession of various handguns at the time of his arrest, in addition to the Uzi and AK-47, authorities said.

His mother, Theresa Ekberg, told the FBI that he has been treated for depression, according to the affidavit.

His mother also told authorities that in the past her son had possessed some "chemicals."

She said that on at least one occasion he showed her something he had purchased via the Internet and expressed concern that if their cat inadvertently ate enough of it, the cat would die, according to the affidavit.

She advised that her son had had the chemicals for several years.

The confidential source, according to the FBI, told authorities that Ekberg would often mix his anti-depression medication with alcohol and visit bars carrying concealed weapons.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

The FBI is still investigating who sent two letters that contained ricin in 2003 through the U.S. postal system. Those letters contained threats and complaints about labor regulations in the trucking industry.

In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist in London, died after a man attacked him with an umbrella that had been rigged to inject a ricin pellet under his skin.

Dallas human trial of ricin vaccine successful

10:59 PM CST on Monday, January 30, 2006

By JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA-TV

A scientific discovery in North Texas could be one of the biggest breakthroughs in bioterrorism in years.

Researchers in Dallas have tested the first vaccine for the deadly agent ricin that currently has no antidote and is almost always fatal. 

 Jeff Waugh was a living experiment for the research against bioterrorism. Last year, he was one of 15 people who received a test vaccine for ricin.

He said he never felt in danger.

"Little bit of pain in the arm just like any shot, but that was it," Waugh said.

Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center developed the vaccine because of the potential hazards ricin poses to people. Ricin is a deadly toxin made from the bean of the castor plant, which makes castor oil.

The toxin can be put in food and water or sprayed as an aerosol.

Researchers felt the urgency after two years ago ricin powder was discovered in the mail room of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

"That's the whole point of a vaccine, it acts partially as a deterrent for people who want to do bad things and it can also protect people who are in the line of fire like soldiers," said Dr. Ellen Vitetta, ricin researcher.

The UT Southwestern vaccine safely and effectively protected against ricin poisoning.

And while Waugh doesn't consider himself a target for bioterrorism, he said he does consider himself a soldier in the fight against it.

"Just the knowledge that this is out there and I had a part in it is a great thing," he said.

However, the tests were just a small phase one human trial, which means larger trials will be needed.

But the Federal Drug Administration and the federal government are already excited and interested in the ricin vaccine for much broader development and potential use for soldiers.

The Daily Texan
Ricin found in Moore-Hill dorm
Deadly toxin first discovered Thursday;2 students receiving precautionary treatment
By Kathy Adams, Ricardo Lozano, Patrick George, Mark Yeh

Two female students from Moore-Hill dormitory were still being treated late Friday for Ricin exposure after coming into contact with the toxin Thursday afternoon, law enforcement and UT officials said.

Students began evacuating the dorm shortly after 11 p.m. when University Residence Hall resident assistants began knocking door-to-door evacuating residents.

According to authorities, no other students are exhibiting symptoms of exposure to Ricin, a protein-inhibitor that can lead to death or serious injury, which has been used as a biological warfare agent. Authorities would not release the names of the girls involved.

"There is no threat coming from this," said Theresa Spalding, associate director of Student Health Services. "The authorities do not believe there is any type of terroristic plot against the University of Texas."

Moore-Hill dormitory is now a crime scene and a criminal investigation is under way, said Dr. Adolfo Valadez, medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

The toxin was first discovered around 2:30 p.m. Thursday when one of the students who received treatment discovered a white powder after opening a roll of quarters from a non-local bank to do laundry on the first floor, Spalding said. The quarters had been in her dorm room on the second floor for several months, Spalding said. The powder fell out on the student's hands, which she washed immediately before reporting the incident to the UT Police Department, Spalding said.

Workers from the University Environmental Health and Safety Department cleaned and decontaminated the area Thursday afternoon, according to a UTPD press release. Firefighters from the AFD Special Operations Hazardous Materials Regional Strike Team in full-body, silver hazardous material suits were also seen entering the building along with other emergency personnel at the scene Friday evening.

Although they are still receiving medical attention, the girl and her roommate are not exhibiting any symptoms of Ricin exposure that would usually develop within 36 hours, Spalding said.

The decision to evacuate was made more than 24 hours after the powder was first found because samples of the substance had to be expedited to a lab in Atlanta, Spalding said. The substance was reported back from the lab as Ricin from preliminary tests, Valadez said.

Students were still able to access the exposed areas of Moore-Hill, including the first floor laundry room. No areas were closed until the dorm was evacuated at 11 p.m.

"It's bad luck and bad timing," said Chao Zhang, a finance senior whose clothes were in a washing machine in the quarantined area. "Hopefully I'll get them back tomorrow and I won't have to go shopping any time soon."

After being evacuated, students were informed of the details about the contamination in Jester Auditorium and were allowed back into the dorm by midnight.

"I live on the second floor - if I can get back in my room then we're just going to go hang out; we're not worried," said Jenna Delaney, a business administration sophomore.

Initially, students were allowed into all areas of the dorm, but were later forced to leave certain areas as decontamination teams, in full-body suits and oxygen tanks, swept the building, beginning around 12:30 p.m. The laundry room was still sealed off early Saturday morning.

Twenty-first Street was closed off from the Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium to Speedway Avenue during the evacuation and decontamination.

Ricin exposure occurs through ingestion or inhalation. Symptoms include severe respiratory problems, severe nausea, bloody vomit, bloody diarrhea and eventual death, Valadez said. Ricin is not contagious and cannot be absorbed through the skin, he said.

The Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department, EMS and UT Police Department were called to the area after the substance was confirmed to be Ricin.

The Houston Chronicle
Feb. 25, 2006, 7:20AM
Ricin Discovered in Texas Dormitory

© 2006 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — A University of Texas student found a substance that has tested positive for ricin, a potentially deadly poison, in a roll of quarters she was using to do laundry in her dormitory, officials said.

The student and her roommate were being treated for potential exposure to the poison, although neither has exhibited symptoms, said Dr. Theresa Spalding of UT Student Health Services.

The student told university police she found the chunky powder Thursday as she was doing her laundry at the Moore-Hill dormitory, Spalding said. Preliminary tests for ricin came back positive Friday.

"We were very concerned as soon as we heard about the positive testing late this evening," Spalding said. She said the quarters had been in the students' dorm room for several months.

Ricin is extracted from castor beans and can be added to food or water, injected or sprayed as an aerosol. It can be in the form of a powder, mist, pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.

Symptoms can include anything from difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and sweating to severe vomiting and dehydration.

The dorm was sanitized and inspected, and students were cleared to return, the university said.

Authorities: Powder in dorm likely not ricin
Students in Texas show no signs of poisoning, officials say

Saturday, February 25, 2006; Posted: 6:23 p.m. EST (23:23 GMT)

(CNN) -- Authorities doubt that the whitish-brown powder found in a roll of quarters at the University of Texas at Austin is ricin because no one has shown symptoms of exposure to the powerful poison, an EMS spokesman said late Saturday afternoon.

"Pretty sure this is not ricin, but we're going to let the labs [confirm] that," said Mike Elliott, district commander for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services. "No one has shown any signs or symptoms at all. With ricin, we should have seen some if there was actual exposure to the individuals."

While an initial lab test showed the substance discovered Thursday was ricin, two other tests did not, he said.

The preliminary tests were conducted Friday at a state lab, and a sample was flown to a federal government lab Saturday afternoon, FBI spokesman Special Agent Richard Kolko said.

The FBI is leading the investigation, but "at this point we have no reason to believe there is any terrorism nexus in this investigation," Kolko said earlier Saturday.

A coin box from a washing machine in the dorm was taken for testing because the student who discovered the suspicious powder found it in a roll of quarters being used to do laundry at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Elliott said at a news conference that the quarters were given to the student by the student's mother, who got them prewrapped from the bank.

The student reported it to the university police department, which notified the school's office of environmental health and safety, which collected the powder and sent it to a state laboratory, the school said in a written statement.

"It was immediately cleaned up, using appropriate decontamination procedures," an official said.

Final tests were being conducted at an Army laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, said Courtney Boeln, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

No one at the university who may have been exposed has shown any symptoms, which would usually appear within six to eight hours, said Dr. Adolfo Valadez, medical director for the Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

"The exposure risk, we feel, is low," he said.

Valadez speculated that because of the humid weather in Austin, the powder clumped, further mitigating the risk if it turns out to be ricin.

The residents of the Moore-Hill dormitory, about 390 people, were moved to another dorm, a school official said.

Highly toxic

Ricin is a potent poison. As little as 500 micrograms of ricin, which would be about the size of the head of a pin, can kill an adult.

In an infamous 1978 incident, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist who was living in London, was killed when a man attacked him with an umbrella that injected a ricin pellet under his skin.

Also, according to the CDC, "Some reports have indicated that ricin may have been used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s and that quantities of ricin were found in al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan."

Ricin is made from the waste "mash" produced when castor oil is extracted from castor beans.

If inhaled, ricin would cause difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea and chest tightness within a few hours.

Heavy sweating might follow and fluid could build up in the lungs, resulting in low blood pressure and respiratory failure, perhaps leading to death.

If swallowed, ricin could cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea, resulting in severe dehydration and low blood pressure.

It also may cause hallucinations, seizures and blood in the urine. Within a few days, the person's liver, spleen and kidneys might stop working, resulting in death. No antidote for the poison exists.

The CDC said it was not involved in the investigation. Boeln said the Texas Department of Health has not requested CDC assistance.

Sophomore Rachel Herbert was visiting a friend Friday night at the dormitory when the initial test results came back positive and officials ordered the building evacuated.

"It's a little terrifying," she told a reporter.

CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report. 

Feb. 26, 2006, 1:03AM
Tests: No ricin in UT student from Pearland
Austin officials now say powder found at dorm may not even be the deadly toxin
By ANNE MARIE KILDAY and PAIGE HEWITT
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A University of Texas at Austin student from Pearland was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital Friday night and "tested negative for any toxin" after she discovered a white powder that tested positive for the deadly toxin ricin.

Officials with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services said late Saturday, however, that subsequent tests have indicated the powder might not be ricin, UT Director of Communications Rhonda Weldon said.

Kelly Heinbaugh, a freshman walk-on to the UT track team from Pearland, was taken for the additional tests as "an extra precaution," said FBI agent Shauna Dunlap, a spokeswoman for the Houston office of the federal agency.

Heinbaugh returned to Pearland to visit her parents Friday night, after she found "a chunky white powder" while doing laundry Thursday afternoon. The powder was in the last roll of quarters that her mother had given her to do laundry.

Heinbaugh and her roommate, Casi Adams, had several rolls of quarters in their second-floor room in Moore-Hill dormitory, Weldon said.

After one test indicated that the powder was ricin, which can be fatal, UT officials "briefed" the 400 residents of Moore-Hill, which was evacuated at 11 p.m. Friday, Weldon said.

The reaction by the students was not hysteria, but "shock," when they were briefed Friday night, Weldon said.

The FBI in Houston took Heinbaugh to the hospital Saturday, Dunlap said.

"We escorted her to Memorial Hermann Hospital, and there were no signs of any toxins. The tests were negative. So it appears she is going to be just fine," Dunlap said.

The San Antonio office of the FBI is handling the investigation.

'Not terrorist-connected'

Special Agent Rene Salinas of the FBI's San Antonio office said the agency believed the incident "is not terrorist-connected."

But he said a team of experts on weapons of mass destruction had flown from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., to Austin to collect samples of the powder for further testing.

Other federal agents "are trying to determine the exact origin of this material," Salinas said, noting that additional testing would be completed over the weekend.

UT is working with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other law enforcement and public health entities, according to a UT press release issued Saturday.

"When faced with an incident like this, the university's highest priority is the safety of our students," said university President William Powers Jr. "We've taken every precaution to ensure our students' health and safety are protected."

Mike Elliott, senior district commander for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, special operations, said late Saturday that he does not think the white powder was ricin.

"In my opinion, I believe it is not," Elliott said. "As of early this morning, there were four tests run. The first three were exactly the same tests. The first of the three came back mildly positive for ricin. Then, seeing that positive hit, they ran a second one, to confirm their findings. It came back inconclusive. So they ran a third one, to determine which was correct, and it came back inconclusive as well."

"The fourth test, which was a completely different test, came back negative," he said.

Elliott speculated that the powder could be "a granular material that is used to clean and dry coins prior to rolling. It is certainly possible that is what this material is."

Final tests results are likely to be made public either late today or early Monday, he said.

The dorm is now a crime scene and a criminal investigation is under way, according to the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

A recorded message at that department advises UT students: "If you have not visited this laundry room during this time period, you have not been exposed. If you have entered the laundry room during this time period and are experiencing severe vomiting or diarrhea or are experiencing difficulty breathing with nausea cough and fever, contact your physician. UT students with questions should call 475-NURSE."

Area decontaminated

Immediately after the powder was found, workers from the University Environmental Health and Safety Department cleaned and decontaminated the area Thursday afternoon, Weldon said.

After one test performed in Atlanta showed that the substance tested positive as ricin, officials from the FBI, the University of Texas Police Department, the Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department and EMS decided to evacuate the dorm. Several streets near the UT campus also were temporarily closed.

Decontamination teams, wearing protective suits and masks equipped with oxygen, began sweeping the dormitory at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

Moore-Hill, built in the 1970s to house student athletes, is about a block away from Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. Elliott said that students were allowed back into the dormitory early Saturday morning.

"They were not kept out overnight. And they can go anywhere in that dorm, except for the immediate area around the laundry room and the girl's room, which is being guarded by police," Elliott said.

He said the police guard was to protect the girl's belongings. The laundry room has been taped off, Elliott said.

No threat to university

Weldon said the "most perplexing part of this" is that the incident is not associated with any kind of threat to the university or to any students. Late Saturday, Weldon said officials "were having a difficult time" removing the coin-operated laundry machines from the dorm's laundry room.

Heinbaugh, who is visiting her parents in Pearland, could not be reached by telephone. On the UT track team, she runs steeplechase.

Heinbaugh was accompanied in the laundry room by her roommate. Adams, a freshman, could not be reached for comment.

Ricin exposure occurs through ingestion or inhalation. Symptoms of exposure to the toxin include severe respiratory problems, bloody vomit, bloody diarrhea and eventual death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

anne.kilday@chron.com
 paige.hewitt@chron.com

Feb. 27, 2006, 1:14AM
Substance found at UT is not ricin
Investigators unsure what the powder is, but say it doesn't pose a health hazard
By MIKE GLENN
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A powdery substance found in a roll of quarters by a University of Texas student while doing laundry in her dormitory is not the deadly toxin ricin, FBI officials said Sunday.

"We're relieved. My mood is elated," UT spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said, shortly after receiving the campus all-clear signal.

Investigators still don't know what the powder is, but said final tests completed Sunday at a military base in Maryland show the substance discovered Thursday by Pearland resident Kelly Heinbaugh does not pose a health hazard.

"They did tell us it was nothing related to anything dangerous or biological or anything that could hurt anybody," FBI Special Agent Rene Salinas said.

Ricin is a highly potent poison made from the wastes left over after castor beans are processed to make castor oil.

Heinbaugh, who returned home after making the discovery, was later tested at Memorial Hermann Hospital as an extra precaution, Houston FBI officials said.

Heinbaugh could not be reached for comment Sunday.

On Saturday, Heinbaugh told the Associated Press that she had called her mother, who told her to wash her hands and tell the dormitory manager. The manager called the university police, and environmental health and safety crews cleaned and sanitized the areas.

About 400 students were evacuated late Friday after an initial test done on the powder found inside UT's Moore-Hill Dormitory came back positive for ricin or a similar substance. The students were kept out while decontamination teams in protective suits and oxygen masks cleaned the affected rooms.

"We had them leave again (Saturday) just to get that last bit of evidence out of there," Weldon said.

The early field testing performed by state health officials, however, could not check for the presence of proteins that would indicate if the powder was the deadly poison, said Salinas, with the FBI's San Antonio office.

FBI agents took custody of the sample Saturday and sent it to Fort Detrick, Md., home of the nation's Interagency Biomedical Research Confederation. Within a day, scientists at the Army base determined it was not ricin or any other dangerous material.

Though the alert prompted the evacuation of the large dormitory, UT officials are standing by the decision.

"I wouldn't think that the university or any of the agencies involved would regret taking the steps they took," Weldon said.

FBI officials said Heinbaugh also made the right call when she reported the substance.

"We're glad she acted the way she did," Salinas said. "It's always better to err on the side of caution."

It was unclear what the next stage of the investigation would be, Salinas said. "I'll have to wait until (Monday) to find that out."

mike.glenn@chron.com

Ariz. Man Indicted of Trying to Make Ricin

By AMANDA LEE MYERS
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 2, 2006; 12:40 AM

PHOENIX -- A man arrested last year for possessing explosives and illegal silencers has been indicted on charges of attempting to produce a biological weapon.

Authorities found a large number of castor bean plants, which can be used to make ricin, in Denys Ray Hughes' apartment.

A federal grand jury indicted Hughes last month, but the exact charges weren't released until Wednesday, when Hughes pleaded not guilty. He also faces illegal weapons and explosives charges.

"It was clear that we interrupted an individual that was infatuated and experimented with dangerous toxins and explosive weapons," said Tom Mangan, special agent and spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Hughes' attorney, Deborah Euler-Ajayi, would not comment on the case after his court appearance.

Ricin is a poisonous protein that can be used as a biological weapon. As little as 500 micrograms of the protein, roughly the amount that fits on the head of a pin, is enough to kill an adult, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities believe Hughes, 58, is not a member of a terrorist organization, and that he was working alone. No evidence points to specific plans of attack, Mangan said.

If convicted, Hughes faces life in prison on the biological weapon charge, and 20 years for each of the four silencers and each of the two pipe bombs authorities found.

Kansas authorities who had pulled over Hughes for a traffic violation tipped off Arizona authorities in July.

According to court documents, a sheriff's deputy found evidence of bomb-making materials and a "to-do" list that included buying cannon fuse, finding secure storage and building a reinforced bunker.

Authorities later searched Hughes' cabin in Wisconsin and found formulas for producing ricin, six bottles of castor beans and dimethyl sulfide, a solvent that can penetrate the skin and has been combined with ricin in other incidents, Mangan said.

They also found 42 biological and chemical samples and an arsenal of weapons hidden behind the cabin's walls, he said.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Posted on Tue, Dec. 12, 2006
Inmate may be linked to ricin letter
By JACK DOUGLAS JR.
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON - Federal investigators are looking into a possible link between recent hoax letters, each containing a white powder and believed to have been sent by a Texas prison inmate, to determine whether they are related to a small shipment of the poison ricin to a mailing center in South Carolina in 2003.

Someone calling himself the Fallen Angel signed at least one of the six recent letters -- sent to government officials in Washington, Baltimore and Buffalo, N.Y. -- and the ricin letter received at a mail-processing facility in Greenville, S.C., in October 2003, an FBI alert said.

The high priority alert, dated late last month, said the U.S. Clerk's Office in Buffalo on Nov. 20 received one of the letters, which was signed "Fallen Angel" and contained a nontoxic powder.

The letter "included references to anthrax and threats to the President," and its sender is believed to be an inmate who is currently serving life in prison for "use of weapons of mass destruction," the alert said.

The prisoner, who was not identified, is at the Montford state prison unit in Lubbock and will be transferred to a federal prison, the alert said.

"This particular inmate has a history of sending threatening hoax letters to public officials using the names and inmate numbers of other inmates at his prison," the alert said, adding, "Letters similar to the one sent to Buffalo were also mailed from the same prison to public offices and officials in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas within the last three months."

While the white powder in the recent letters all tested negative for toxins, the alert said their sender may have a connection to the ricin delivery six years ago.

The earlier letter, the alert said, made reference to the Department of Transportation and was signed, "Fallen Angel."

Lori Bailey, spokeswoman for the FBI in Dallas, declined to comment.

Guns, 'Anarchist Book' Found With Ricin

By KEN RITTER – 11 hours ago

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Firearms and an "anarchist type textbook" were found in the same motel room where several vials of the deadly toxin ricin was found, police said Friday.

The room was most recently occupied by a 57-year-old man who has been in critical condition with breathing problems at a hospital for more than two weeks.

Las Vegas police said there was no apparent link to terrorist activity, and no indication of any spread of the deadly substance beyond the several vials of powder found in a plastic bag in the man's room on Thursday. But what the ricin was doing there remained a mystery.

A pinprick of ricin is enough to kill.

"Six to eight hours, you're going to start showing symptoms," said Greg Evans, director of the Institute for Biosecurity at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

Capt. Joseph Lombardo said at a news conference late Friday that the book was tabbed at a spot with information about ricin. Lombardo did not give more information about the book or specify what kinds of weapons were found.

A friend or relative of the sick man found the vials after going to the Extended Stay America motel, several blocks west of the Las Vegas Strip, to retrieve his belongings, police Deputy Chief Kathy Suey said.

Tests by police homeland security officers, the Nevada National Guard and a laboratory in Las Vegas came back positive for ricin, she said. A cleanup of the motel has been completed, she added.

Seven people, including the man who found the ricin, the manager, two other motel employees and three police officers, were decontaminated at the scene and taken to hospitals for examination, but none have shown any signs of being affected by ricin, Suey said. All were released overnight.

"There is no information to lead us to believe that this is the result of any terrorist activity or related to any possible terrorist activity," Suey said. "We don't have any reason to believe any of it left the property."

Police cordoned off the hotel and told residents to stay in their rooms. The cordon was lifted early Friday morning, and the motel has been open since then.

Lombardo said precautionary tests were also done a room in the Excalibur hotel, where the friend or relative had been saying. He said they came back negative.

Suey said the manufacture of ricin is a crime, but it was not clear the substance found belonged to the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition Feb. 14 after summoning an ambulance to the motel and complaining of respiratory distress.

The man was unconscious and unable to speak, Suey said, adding that he was not currently a suspect.

"We don't know an awful lot about him," Suey said. "We don't even know that it was him that was in possession of the ricin." She said she could not say how much ricin was in the vials.

Cancer research is the only legitimate reason for anyone to have ricin, Evans said.

Ricin is made from processing castor beans, and can be extremely lethal. As little as 500 micrograms, or about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Castor beans also were found in the man's room, officials said.

An American Medical Response paramedic crew that took the man to the hospital about 11 a.m. Feb. 14 had no indication of ricin poisoning, AMR general manager John Wilson said.

Wilson would not say whether the two paramedics who handled the call entered the man's room, but said neither have shown symptoms of exposure.

Naomi Jones, spokeswoman for Spring Valley Hospital, said the patient was in critical condition when he arrived at the hospital. She said Las Vegas police contacted the hospital Wednesday about a possible ricin exposure investigation.

"The investigation started two days ago, that's when we began cooperating," Jones said. "The patient who has been exposed is not contagious to anyone else, as ricin has to be injected, ingested or inhaled."

Police refused to comment on whether the hospital was contacted Wednesday, a day before police said the ricin was found.

Evans said the fact that the man suffered respiratory illness suggested he was exposed to a powder fine enough to float in the air.

"If he went to the hospital with difficulty breathing, he actually inhaled it," Evans said. "For some reason he opened the vial and it must have been aerosolized."

Multiple vials would probably contain enough ricin to sicken many people if it was spread, for example, around a buffet table or sprayed in a closed room.

"If it was aerosolized in a confined space then it certainly could harm dozens of people," he said.

Police said they had spent 12 hours containing and cleaning up the site.

"My understanding is cleanup has been done," said Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District. "There should not be a threat to anybody at this time."

The motel room had been unoccupied since the man was hospitalized. Someone who knew the sick man found the ricin in the room and brought it to the apartment manager, Suey said.

"He claimed to be a relative. We haven't confirmed that yet whether he is a relative or a friend," she said.

The manager had begun an eviction because the sick man hadn't paid his bill, and the friend or relative had gone to retrieve his items, she said.

Suey said there were several pets in the room when officers arrived. A dog was found dead but the animal had gone at least a week without food or water, Suey said, and she did not attribute the death to ricin.

Evans, of the Institute for Biosecurity, said that if ricin is inhaled, symptoms would include difficulty breathing, fever, cough and nausea. Injection would lead to vomiting and severe diarrhea. Eventually these symptoms would progress to seizures, hallucination, bloody urine and damage to the kidney, liver and spleen and death.

Tom Obrig, an expert on ricin who teaches nephrology at the University of Virginia, said there have been about 700 reports over the years of people trying to commit suicide by eating castor beans.

"Usually it doesn't work because it's not digested well," he said.

For the most part, however, the toxin has more of a cloak-and-dagger reputation linked more closely to spies and assassins. He recalled one particularly famous murder in 1978 involving Georgi Ivanov Markov, a Bulgarian dissident in London.

Markov "was standing on a corner waiting for a bus and some spy came along and injected a pellet in his leg from an umbrella," Obrig said. "The guy died three days later. It was traced back by Scotland Yard who figured the only thing potent enough to do that was ricin."

Associated Press Staff writers Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles and Kathleen Hennessey in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Mar. 01, 2008
Guns, anarchy text found in room with ricin
LV police say terrorism not motive despite discovery

By CARRI GEER THEVENOT and LAWRENCE MOWER
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

The Las Vegas hotel suite where vials of ricin were found Thursday also contained guns and literature about anarchy with information on the deadly toxin, police said Friday.

Nevertheless, Las Vegas police continued to downplay the significance of the ricin discovery, saying they had ruled out terrorism as a motive.

"I want to assure everybody that the Las Vegas Valley is safe," Las Vegas police Capt. Joseph Lombardo said. "We don't currently have any terrorist threat at this time or possibility of contamination (due) to ricin."

The Metropolitan Police Department reported one person has been injured by the biological agent. That man has been in critical condition at Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center for more than two weeks.

Police said the man is 57 years old and was staying in the suite at the Extended Stay America on Valley View Boulevard near Flamingo Road where the ricin was found.

Police have not identified the man, but a Homeland Security internal document obtained by the Review-Journal states that he is Roger Von Bergendorff.

The man placed an emergency call from the suite on Feb. 14, saying he was in respiratory distress and asking to be transported to a hospital, police said.

"He's unable to speak with us right now," said Deputy Chief Kathy Suey, who leads the Police Department's Homeland Security Division.

His medical condition, however, was consistent with exposure to the poisonous substance, authorities said.

If a person exposed to ricin doesn't die within three to five days, the victim usually recovers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seven other people, including three police officers and three employees at the long-term stay hotel, also were hospitalized as a precaution. No one other than Von Bergendorff had exhibited signs of ricin exposure.

Before Thursday's discovery of the deadly poison, hotel management and Las Vegas police had visited the suite twice without detecting it.

On Feb. 22, eight days after Von Bergendorff was hospitalized, one of the man's "relations" called hotel management to alert them to two cats and one dog that were in the suite, Lombardo said.

Management contacted the Humane Society to take care of the animals, and the cats were taken in and are in good health. A veterinarian with the society determined the dog was in ill health because of lack of food and water and the animal was destroyed, Lombardo said.

On Tuesday, management at the hotel began eviction procedures and called Las Vegas police after discovering four firearms in the suite, the Homeland Security memo states.

Police then found an anarchist textbook that was "tabbed" to a section on ricin, Lombardo said.

That discovery prompted police investigators to test the room for the deadly substance. The test was negative.

On Thursday, a man who "claimed to be a relative" was in the suite and discovered several vials of ricin in a bag, along with castor beans from which the substance is derived, Suey said.

Police have not identified the man, whom they said was 53 years old. But the Homeland Security document identified him as Thomas Tholen.

Authorities said Tholen took the vials of ricin to the manager's office. It was not clear whether Tholen knew what the vials contained.

Tholen and three other people who were inside the manager's office were taken to Desert Springs Hospital as a precaution.

Police said Tholen stayed at the Excalibur on Wednesday night. Friday evening investigators found the room was not tainted from ricin, Lombardo said.

Police believe that all of the ricin related to the incident has been contained.

Las Vegas police spokesman Bill Cassell said Von Bergendorff "is not considered a criminal suspect."

Lombardo said: "I don't want to make any conclusions with the anarchist-type textbook. It doesn't make you a terrorist because you have this type textbook. It doesn't make you a terrorist if you possess firearms."

Police said Von Bergendorff had a misdemeanor arrest several years ago but would release no other details until the ricin investigation is completed.

Suey said the suite was registered to the man, but she did not know how long he had stayed in the suite before his hospitalization.

According to the CDC, ricin can be made from waste left over from processing castor beans and can be used in cancer treatment.

"It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people," the CDC's Web site states. "Accidental exposure to ricin is highly unlikely."

As little as 500 micrograms of ricin, about the size of a pin head, could be enough to kill an adult.

Suey said police do not know whether the former occupant of the hotel suite manufactured or possessed the substance.

"Might he be a victim?" a reporter asked.

"That's possible," she said.

Suey said people could have any number of reasons for wanting to make ricin.

"It could be experimental just to see if they can," she said.

The last time Las Vegas police dealt with ricin was in 2003, when a 60-year-old man died after injecting himself with the poison.

Suey said the immediate concern of police after the ricin was found on Thursday was the public's health and safety.

"For the last 12 hours, our efforts have been on the containment and cleanup of the area," she said.

With that accomplished, Suey said, police were moving ahead with their investigation.

Naomi Jones, a spokeswoman at Spring Valley Hospital, said in a prepared statement Friday that all of the medical center's patients, visitors and employees are safe.

"The patient who has been exposed is not contagious to anyone else, as ricin has to be injected, ingested or inhaled," Jones said in the statement. "We are following the universal blood-borne pathogen protocols and cooperating with investigators at this time."

Las Vegas police notified hospital officials about the investigation involving the patient on Wednesday, according to the statement.

A statement released Friday by Desert Springs Hospital states that four people were taken to the facility Thursday evening for possible exposure to ricin "and are being tested and observed and will be discharged from the hospital once they are cleared by a physician per CDC protocols."

"While we cannot confirm whether the patients have been exposed to ricin, there is no risk of exposure to our patients, visitors and employees," according to the statement.

A statement from the Nevada Office of the Military states that 19 soldiers and airmen from the Nevada National Guard's 92nd Civil Support Team assisted Las Vegas police in the ricin investigation Thursday night. The team also assisted the Clark County Fire Department's hazardous materials team in the decontamination of the scene.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0264. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0440.

FBI, others probe Utah links to Las Vegas discovery of deadly ricin

By Nathan C. Gonzalez and Melinda Rogers
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 03/03/2008 02:27:28 PM MST

RIVERTON - FBI agents and area police agencies continue today to investigate Utah connections to the discovery of the deadly toxin ricin in a Las Vegas motel room -- and the occupant of that room, who remained comatose today after exposure to the material.

On Sunday, investigators donned gas masks, air tanks and hazardous materials suits Sunday as they searched a home and three West Jordan storage units for any signs of the substance.

FBI and a slew of local police and fire officials spent the day searching the home of Thomas Tholen, whose cousin, Roger Von Bergendorff, 57, remains in critical condition in a Las Vegas hospital. 

Officials recovered vials of the toxin from Von Bergendorff's motel room last week, FBI officials said.

Because agents searched under sealed warrants, FBI officials were tight-lipped about materials recovered from Tholen's home and about what led investigators to search the storage units rented to Von Bergendorff.

"It's pretty bad stuff," Tim Fuhrman, FBI special agent in charge for Salt Lake City, said of ricin. "There is clearly a concern from both a public safety and law enforcement experience, when an individual tests positive for ricin."

Von Bergendorff, the middle child of three sons, grew up in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa.

''He used to be a hothead,'' former neighbor Paul Slade told The San Diego Union-Tribune. ''When we played football he'd always be the first to get in a fight. When he got older he kind of calmed down.''

Slade attended Grossmont College with Von Bergendorff.

Von Bergendorff would move back to the La Mesa house to take care of his mother, Lola, the newspaper said. She died in 2001. Her obituary said Von Bergendorff lived in Reno at that time. His father, Frederick, died in 1991.

Another neighbor, Steve McNulty, told the Union-Tribune that Von Bergendorff kept to himself while he was caring for his mother.

Mike Massaglia and his wife, who now own the family home, told the newspaper they bought the house from a bank last year and had not heard of Von Bergendorff.

Authorities and paramedics descended on Tholen's home at 3004 W. 13400 South on Saturday. By Sunday morning, two blocks of the street - from 2900 West to about 3100 West - were choked by police, hazmat crews, fire engines, an explosive ordnance disposal unit, and an FBI mobile command unit. Traffic was blocked from the area.

It was a similar scene at Jordan Self Storage, 9528 S. Bagley Park Road (5230 West), where crews searched storage units rented by Von Bergendorff.

"We are comfortable we are looking in the right places," Fuhrman said.

Due to the deadly nature of ricin, authorities were being methodical in their searches and weren't expected to complete the task until late Sunday evening, said Juan Becerra, an FBI spokesman.

Shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday, Riverton police Lt. Rod Norton and Mayor Bill Applegarth knocked on doors warning several residents that authorities would be looking for dangerous chemicals in Tholen's home and placed them on a voluntary evacuation, said Lt. Paul Jaroscak, a Salt Lake County sheriff's spokesman. That evacuation was lifted by mid-afternoon.

Tholen, his wife and daughter each tested negative for ricin exposure, and Tholen is cooperating with the FBI, FuhrÂman said.

On Feb. 14, Von Bergendorff checked into a hospital complaining of respiratory problems, authorities have said. Tholen visited Von Bergendorff's motel room eight days later.

Las Vegas police later recovered firearms, vials of ricin, and an "anarchist-type textbook" tabbed to a section on ricin and castor beans (from which ricin is made) from Von Bergendorff's room, authorities have said.

"At this point in time, we don't have any indications of any connections to any terrorist act or any terrorist activity, but I will say that is something we will continue to look at," Fuhrman said.

Sunday morning's response concerned many neighbors, some of whom described the area as relatively quiet. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said the FBI and police response was to ensure the public's safety.

"The citizens here are extremely safe and we anticipate that they will remain so," Winder said, noting that his department is "deeply integrated" in the FBI investigation.

Once ingested, inhaled or exposed to the skin, ricin binds to cells and prevents them from developing the proteins needed to survive, said Sanwat Chaudhuri, director of the Utah Department of Public Health's Bureau of Environmental Chemistry.

An exposed person who inhales ricin will develope flu-like symptoms and fluid will eventually begin to build up in the lungs, Chaudhuri said.

As little as 500 micrograms of ricin, about the size of the head of a pin, is enough to kill a person. Depending on the amount of exposure, a person can die in three to five days, said Jana Coombs, biological emergency preparedness and response coordinator for Utah Department of Public Health.

The only legal use for ricin is cancer research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story

The 'why' of ricin cache is still a puzzle
Investigation following discovery of the lethal poison moves to Utah, where a now-critically ill man once lived.

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 3, 2008

LAS VEGAS -- As mysteries go, this one offers an intriguing trail of clues: A man who suddenly falls ill. A deadly toxin. Guns. An "anarchist-type textbook."

Beyond the items found in Roger Von Bergendorff's motel room here, authorities have revealed little about how the 57-year-old ended up unconscious and in critical condition, possibly from exposure to the poisonous substance ricin.

Von Bergendorff -- a graphic designer who was struggling financially -- was hospitalized on Feb. 14 after struggling to breathe. Police say they found several vials of ricin and the castor beans needed to make it in Von Bergendorff's room at the Extended Stay America Hotel.

A book in the room was marked at a section about the poison -- 500 micrograms of which (about the size of the head of a pin) -- can kill a human.

There was no apparent link to terrorism, officials said, and they have yet to find any more ricin.

FBI spokesman Juan Becerra said Sunday that the focus of the investigation was shifting to Utah. Authorities -- dressed in hazardous-material protection suits -- searched a home and garage-size storage units in the Salt Lake City suburbs where Von Bergendorff lived.

Von Bergendorff spent much of his adult life in Orange and San Diego counties. Public records indicate that several tax liens were filed against Von Bergendorff in San Diego County in the mid-1990s. He also filed for bankruptcy in 2000, records show.

After being evicted from a Utah apartment a few years ago, he moved into his cousin Tom Tholen's basement, said Brad Ewell, one of Tholen's neighbors in Riverton, Utah.

Von Bergendorff didn't pay rent, ran up the Tholens' phone bill using dial-up Internet service and stayed longer than Tholen expected, according to Ewell. "The Good Samaritan got bitten," he said.

Neighbors called Von Bergendorff standoffish. A hulking man with wavy hair, he worked with computers and delivered pizza. Much of his time was spent with his pets, including a German shepherd.

But Von Bergendorff "dressed normal; he wasn't a shaved-head supremacist guy or someone you'd think would cause trouble," Ewell said. Von Bergendorff joined a Mormon congregation and told neighbors he had overcome a drug addiction.

Eventually, Von Bergendorff moved into a neighbor's camper trailer. The neighbor, John Walster, asked Von Bergendorff to leave in August 2006, but did not specify why, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Neighbors heard little more about Von Bergendorff until a few weeks ago. He had been hospitalized at Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas and apparently called his cousin.

Last week, when motel managers began the process of evicting Von Bergendorff, they found four firearms and the book tabbed to the ricin section, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Days later, Tholen discovered the castor beans and ricin vials, which he took to hotel managers, authorities said. Health officials are still working to determine whether the poison caused Von Bergendorff's illness.

Ricin -- made from the waste left over from processing castor beans -- has only one legal use: cancer research. The toxin can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fluid in the lungs and respiratory or organ failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Its reputation stems in part from the death of a Bulgarian writer in the 1970s, the CDC said.

Georgi Markov was attacked by a man in London who had rigged an umbrella to inject the writer with ricin.

In 2003, a gambling executive committed suicide in Las Vegas by injecting himself with the poison, and the next year, the substance was found in the of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

In Riverton, neighbors were stunned that Tholen, a retired art teacher who hosts barbecues and passes out Christmas cookies, had become entangled with the investigation.

"You couldn't see him being involved in something like this," said Chelsea Neider, a student who has lived nearby for four years.

ashley.powers@latimes.com
The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Ricin probe: Few answers for investigators in Vegas or Utah
By Jason Bergreen and Melinda Rogers
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 03/04/2008 06:46:26 AM MST

California native Roger Von Bergendorff is a graphic designer and artist, an animal lover, and a man trying to get back on his feet after financial troubles.

But friends and family say the 57-year-old, now fighting for his life after possible exposure to the deadly poison ricin, wasn't the type to have a lethal poison or use it.

The mystery surrounding the recent discovery of firearms, an anarchist-type textbook, vials of ricin and castor beans found in Bergendorff's Las Vegas motel room has put a spotlight on both the Riverton neighborhood where he recently lived and his hometown of Mesa, Calif.

Dale Miller said he met Bergendorff in 1960 while living next door to his parents and watched the boy grow up into an "intelligent, very artistic" teenager who got along with his family but also "did his own thing."

Miller, 75, said he has kept in touch with Roger Bergendorff by e-mail and last communicated with his friend three weeks ago.

Bergendorff was distraught over his ill 13-year-old German shepherd, a pet he spent thousands of dollars medicating for hip problems with daily injections.

Miller said Bergendorff carried vials of medicine for his dog. "He was giving his dog shots two or three times a day. Without the shots the dog couldn't move its hindquarters," Miller said. "He spent thousands of dollars on that dog. That was his partner in life."

Bergendorff pursued a career as a graphic artist after graduating from Grossmont College in El Cajon, Calif., and was working in Las Vegas designing slot machines before he was admitted to the hospital, Miller said.

Police found vials of ricin, firearms and an anarchist-type textbook tabbed to a section on ricin and castor seeds in Bergendorff's Las Vegas motel room on Feb. 22.

Those discoveries were a surprise to his great-aunt and great-uncle, Gene and Reta Peterman of San Carlos, Calif.

Gene Peterman said his wife knew Bergendorff "real well and saw him grow up." Reta Peterman, 76, is hospitalized, recovering from shoulder replacement surgery, and could not be reached for comment, but "she was floored over the thing [with Bergendorff]," Gene Peterman said.

Gene Peterman described his great-nephew as a talented artist, but also as the "black sheep" of the family - without further explanation.

By the late 1990s, Bergendorff ran into financial woes. According to court documents, Bergendorff filed for bankruptcy in 2000. He owed more than $190,000 in back taxes and for medical services, rent, unpaid private loans and other unpaid services. He lived in La Mesa, Calif., at the time.

Bergendorff lived in the Riverton home of his cousin, Tom Tholen, for nearly a year in 2005 and 2006.

Neighbors there also noticed Bergendorff's devotion to animals: he combed the neighborhood looking for his lost cat and offered a $200 reward, said John Walster, who allowed a down-on-his-luck Bergendorff to live in a trailer near his home for 2 1/2 months after Bergendorff overstayed his welcome at his cousin's home.

"He tried to capture her by putting cat traps out, but he never found her," added Tammy Ewell, another neighbor of Bergendorff's in Riverton.

Bergendorff ''even came back from Las Vegas two to three times just to search the yards and find out about the cat," Ewell said.

Walster said Bergendorff drove his Buick to Lehi for a job at Domino's Pizza. He said he also struggled with alcoholism.

The FBI and several police departments also are keeping mum about materials recovered from the Tholen's home over the weekend.

Bergendorff remained in critical condition at Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas on Monday, said Naomi Jones, the hospital's marketing director.

jbergreen@sltrib.com     mrogers@sltrib.com

Middle East Times
Analysis: Experts: Ricin terror overblown
By SHAUN WATERMAN (UPI Homeland and National Security Editor)
Published: March 04, 2008

WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- Ricin has been a byword for terrorism in the mass media since Colin Powell used it to link Iraq-based terrorists to groups plotting attacks in Europe as part of the U.S. case for invasion in 2003. But the ricin in that incident turned out to be no more real than Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and experts say that the toxin is so difficult to purify it is unlikely to ever be used successfully in a terror attack.

Samples of the substance found in a Las Vegas motel room last week after its occupant was hospitalized with breathing difficulties will be analyzed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the FBI's Hazardous Materials Response Unit, officials told United Press International Monday.

Two CDC specialists were already in Las Vegas at the request of state and local authorities, the agency's spokesman Von Roebuck told UPI. He said they were working to help ascertain what had sickened Roger Von Bergendorff, a resident at the Extended Stay America motel who was hospitalized Feb. 14 and remains in critical condition.

Experts say that with no conclusive analysis of either the substance or the patient it is hard to tell what might have been found in Bergendorff's room, and some accuse local officials -- and the news media -- of getting out ahead of the story.

"There are field tests, but the lab testing will eliminate the possibility of a false positive," FBI spokesman Richard Kolko acknowledged.

Roebuck told UPI the agency's lab had received samples for confirmatory testing Monday but could not say when the results would be available.

Ramon Denby, a spokesman for the Las Vegas police who recovered the substance after it was handed to the motel management, told UPI a hazmat unit called the Armor Team had conducted field tests on the substance and determined that it contained ricin.

He said the tests had been "conclusively confirmed" by a U.S. military lab. "It was 100 percent positive for ricin," he said.

But a spokeswoman for the Nevada National Guard's 92nd Civilian Support Team who carried out the second set of tests told UPI the results were only preliminary and operated on the precautionary principle.

"The mobile lab rolls in when requested by law enforcement," Capt. April Conway said. "Their job is to take the first cut on what (any substance found) is. They tell the first responders, 'We think you're dealing with ricin,' or whatever it is. … The aim is to protect first responders."

Experts say field testing only reveals the presence of ricin, a protein derived from castor beans that in its purest form is highly toxic.

"You can grind castor beans into powder, and that will contain a tiny amount of ricin," said George Smith, specialist in protein chemistry and a senior fellow with the think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

He said the quantities involved, less than 1 percent of the powder, would be far too small to be usable as a poison but large enough to register in field tests.

Smith said this was what happened in the Wood Green ricin case, made famous by Powell's presentation to the United Nations in February 2003, when he linked it with a training camp allegedly run in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But, as evidence at the Wood Green trial later revealed, the initial reports about the presence of ricin in the apartment British police raided Jan. 5 turned out to be wrong.

"Subsequent confirmatory tests on the material from the pestle and mortar did not detect the presence of ricin. It is my opinion therefore that toxins are not detectable in the pestle and mortar," wrote Martin Pearce, leader of the Biological Weapon Identification Group at the British military research lab at Porton Down.

To eliminate the possibility of false positives and determine the purity of the sample takes laboratory testing, Smith said.

Other experts agreed that it was too soon to say how dangerous was the substance Bergendorff was apparently trying to make -- The New York Times reported authorities had also found castor beans and "a book about anarchy tabbed to a page explaining how to manufacture ricin."

"We need a proper lab analysis of the substance and a proper medical analysis of the patient and we don't have either of them," commented Milton Leitenberg, a bio-weapons specialist at the University of Maryland.

"We don't really know anything at this point," said Leitenberg, adding he was surprised by some of comments he had seen from local officials and some of the media coverage.

"The information out there seems largely inaccurate," he said.

Smith said many media reports were citing CDC figures that as little as 500 micrograms of the pure toxin -- a dose about the size of a pinhead -- can be fatal, without mentioning the difficulty in manufacturing to that level of purity.

Smith said the kind of recipes for ricin typically found in anarchist books or Internet publications could not produce anything that was really useable, even as a poison against individuals.

He said the kind of processing they recommended "actually reduces the amount of ricin present" in the powder.

"There is no practical way to get the required quantities into the victim," he said of the homemade castor bean paste that would result.

"There are laboratory procedures you can perform that will produce pure ricin, but none of these kinds of recipes do that," Smith said, adding, "You have to have some level of technical expertise. Not someone who was good at chemistry at high school. Not even someone with a bachelor's degree in chemistry."

Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, said his agency was working with the CDC and others to identify samples that could help establish whether Bergendorff had been exposed to ricin.

"We have been consulting with doctors (at the hospital) to identify the type of specimens required for testing," he said, adding that could include samples from personal effects or clothing as well as clinical samples.

The long period of time Bergendorff had been hospitalized also "presents some difficulties," Sands said. Any ricin he had been exposed to "might have been metabolized out" by this time.

As it stood, he added, there was no evidence that Bergendorff had been exposed. "Acute respiratory distress (like Bergendorff's) is a common presentation at ER," he said.

Deadly poison
CDC test confirms substance is ricin
FBI in Salt Lake City still investigating link to house in Riverton
By Jason Bergreen
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 03/05/2008 01:27:51 AM MST

A substance found in Roger Von Bergendorff's Las Vegas hotel room and tested Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was confirmed to be the deadly toxin ricin. The new results confirm initial tests conducted by the Southern Nevada Health District.

Jennifer Sizemore, a spokeswoman for SNHD, confirmed Tuesday that the CDC sample came back positive.

Police found vials of ricin, firearms and an anarchist-type textbook tabbed to a section on ricin and castor seeds in Bergendorff's Las Vegas motel room on Feb. 22. He remains hospitalized in Las Vegas, but authorities have not yet linked his illness to exposure to ricin, Sizemore said.

"We still don't know about the condition of the individual," said CDC spokesman Von Roebuck. "He's still under evaluation."

On day four of their inquiry, Salt Lake City FBI agents were still investigating who Bergendorff is and what connection, if any, his cousin's home in Riverton played in the discovery of the ricin.

To this point, the investigation remains a public safety issue, not a criminal investigation, Salt Lake City FBI special agent Juan Becerra said Tuesday. Charges have not been filed and no indictments have been issued.

"We're [still] investigating how the problem became," he said. 

Salt Lake City agents on Sunday wrapped up their investigation at a home in Riverton owned by Bergendorff's cousin, Tom Tholen, and at several storage units Bergendorff rented in West Valley City. The FBI is not revealing what was taken from the home and the storage units.

jbergreen@sltrib.com

Victim had lived in Reno
TAMMY KRIKORIAN
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Posted: 3/5/2008 

A man hospitalized in Las Vegas, possibly from exposure to the deadly toxin ricin, previously lived in Reno and worked at International Game Technology for more than two years.

Roger Von Bergendorff, 57, has been in critical condition at Spring Valley Hospital in Las Vegas since Feb. 14, a spokeswoman said. Police have characterized him as unconscious and unable to speak.

Officials confirmed Tuesday that vials found in Bergendorff's room at a Las Vegas motel contained ricin, but officials are trying to determine whether that's what caused his respiratory ailment.

Just 500 micrograms of ricin, about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its only legal use is for cancer research.

Bergendorff lived on Ripple and Mountain Vista ways in Reno and worked for IGT from August 2001 to January 2004.

Joe Colvin said he lived across the street from Bergendorff on Mountain Vista.

"He was kind of a loner guy," said Colvin, who has since moved. "I was probably one of the few people who really knew him."

Colvin said Bergendorff had a German shepherd and three cats, one with three legs. Colvin had a bull mastiff and said they walked their dogs to the top of Ridgeview.

"I thought he was kind of odd in his own way, (but I) didn't think he was dangerous ,and I thought he meant well," Colvin said. "He really loved his animals."

Colvin said when he moved in 2002, Bergendorff still lived there.

'Very eccentric'

Bergendorff later rented a home on Ripple from Fred and Lori Elliot.

"He was a very eccentric individual, very clean-oriented," Fred Elliot said. "He would clean every day."

Fred Elliot described Bergendorff as pleasant and friendly, "very unique" and a good graphic designer who once designed a business card for him.

"No question, he was a loner," Fred Elliot said.

Lori Elliot said Bergendorff was "very strange."

"He had this machine that he cleaned with Clorox," she said. "You'd go in, and your eyes would burn almost."

Lori Elliot said she wasn't sure what kind of a machine it was.

"(He was a) very nice guy," she said. "Just very strange."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Man in Suspected Ricin Case Was Loner

By KEN RITTER
March 6, 2008

LAS VEGAS (AP) — If only Roger Bergendorff could say why vials of deadly ricin, guns and a copy of the "The Anarchist Cookbook" were found in his Las Vegas motel room.

Instead, the struggling graphic artist remained hospitalized Thursday, unconscious and on a ventilator, unable to describe how he and his beloved dog became the focus of a toxic mystery still puzzling investigators.

"At this stage of the investigation, he could be a perpetrator. He could be a victim. He could be both," said FBI agent David Staretz.

Bergendorff, 57, has been hospitalized since Feb. 14, when he summoned an ambulance to the Extended Stay America motel several blocks from the Las Vegas Strip, complaining of respiratory distress.

Authorities suspect Bergendorff was exposed to ricin, which is deadly even in minuscule amounts. But they cannot be sure because the poison breaks down in the body within days. Bergendorff was hospitalized for two weeks before the ricin was discovered in the motel room.

Family members and former neighbors in Southern California, Reno and the Salt Lake City area say they are mystified.

"I can say with confidence there was no intent for any kind of terrorist activity," said Erich Bergendorff, a younger brother who lives in Escondido, Calif. "I was asked by the FBI if he's affiliated with any group or if he would have been influenced by any group. I couldn't prove it, but I would be willing to bet that would not be the case."

Roger Bergendorff, whose middle name is Von, grew up in La Mesa, Calif., a bedroom community outside San Diego. He also lived in Huntington Beach, Calif., before moving at least six times from 1990 to 2007, according to public records and interviews with friends and family members.

Never married, he struggled with booze and bills. The recovering alcoholic declared both personal and business bankruptcy in the 1990s and suffered a heart attack in 1998, at age 48. He also was treated for depression, his brother said.

Bergendorff seemed to have constant money problems and sometimes overstayed his welcome when people tried to help.

He worked for slot machine maker International Game Technology in Reno from 2001 to 2004.

When he moved to Las Vegas, he told his family he was working on a contract designing graphics for another slot-machine company. That contract ran out, and he told his brother he planned to stay and wait for another job.

His brother said Bergendorff graduated in 1980 with a bachelor's degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

"I don't think he felt he was creative enough," Erich Bergendorff said. "He really felt he had to work hard ... to keep up the standards that he had which were really quite high."

Friends and family members say Bergendorff was deeply saddened by the Jan. 27 death of his older brother, Fred, who had struggled with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Bergendorff was concerned he couldn't afford to travel from Las Vegas to Southern California for his brother's memorial service, family members said. He posted a Jan. 29 message online describing Fred Bergendorff as "the best brother you could have."

Roger Bergendorff also worried about his dog, Angel, who at 13 years old suffered health problems and needed eye drops four times a day, Erich Bergendorff said.

"Whatever he went to the hospital for, it was not suicide," Erich Bergendorff said. "There might have been an accident. He was very depressed about losing his brother and having financial difficulties and losing his job."

Family members didn't know until Feb. 21 that Roger Bergendorff was hospitalized. They reached a motel manager, who found the dog and two cats in Bergendorff's room and turned them over to the Humane Society.

With eviction looming, a motel employee went to the room again Feb. 26 and found guns in the room, police said. The employee contacted authorities, who retrieved the guns and William Powell's "cookbook" on how to assemble homemade bombs, marked at a section on ricin, Las Vegas police said.

Police found no ricin and tested the air, but found no contamination. They have not said what weapons were found.

Two days later, as cousin Thomas Tholen was collecting Bergendorff's belongings from the room, he turned over a plastic bag containing several vials of what turned out to be ricin powder to the motel manager. Authorities said castor beans, from which the ricin toxin is derived, also were found in Bergendorff's room.

Police and the FBI quickly denied any terrorism link, but have not explained why. Officials said Bergendorff could face state charges of possession of a controlled substance or more serious federal charges of possession and manufacture of ricin.

Ricin has no antidote, and can be lethal in amounts as small as the head of a pin. It prevents the body from synthesizing proteins and shuts down vital organs such as the liver, kidneys and heart.

"If you breathe it in, it would spread very rapidly through the bloodstream," said Andrew Ternay Jr., founder of the Rocky Mountain Center for Homeland Defense at the University of Denver.

"It's not the kind of stuff you use for anything except for poison," added Ternay, author of "The Language of Nightmares," a glossary of terms for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

The only legal use for ricin is cancer research.

In Riverton, Utah, where Roger Bergendorff lived before moving to Las Vegas, neighbors described him as a down-on-his-luck loner who lived for a time in a pickup truck camper with his pets.

John Walster let Bergendorff stay in the camper when he wore out his welcome at Tholen's home in the spring of 2006. He said Bergendorff stayed about three months before Walster asked him to leave in August 2006. When Bergendorff still didn't move out, Walster packed up his things and left them outside.

Bergendorff also lived for a decade in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he designed airbrush calendars and postcards that were sold in souvenir shops.

His former landlord, Jerry Smith, recalled Bergendorff frequently paid his rent late. He was being evicted when he declared his illustration business bankrupt in April 1990. Bergendorff claimed $309,700 in debts and $26,650 in assets.

When Bergendorff finally moved out, he destroyed a darkroom he had built in the two-bedroom apartment, Smith said. He left torn pages from pornographic magazines scattered everywhere.

"He was mad because we had to evict him," Smith said. "It was like he wanted to do something symbolic with these magazines, to shock us."

Associated Press writers Allison Hoffman in San Diego and Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

KLAS Las Vegas
Edward Lawrence, Reporter
New Information in Ricin Investigation

Updated: March 13, 2008 07:46 PM 

Eyewitness News has new information about the ricin investigation. Two weeks ago today, Metro police found ricin in a Las Vegas motel near the corner of Flamingo and Valley View. Thursday, Eyewitness News obtained the search warrants police issued for that motel.

Ricin may be off the front page, but police continue to work on it. The search warrants reveal more about the police investigation. If someone inhaled or even touched ricin it would be deadly.

The toxin was found in the room Roger Bergendorff rented at the Extended Stay America Motel.

According to search warrants, police looked through not only the room, but Bergendorff's car. Officers were looking for any trace of ricin or the components to make it to see if the toxin was transported.

Nothing relating to ricin was found in the car, indicating it may have been made in the room at the motel. Metro actually went to the room twice -- the first time on Feb. 26.

They were called by the property manager when she started the eviction process. Police found guns and four anarchist cookbooks with markers to the section for making ricin.

Metro was called back on Feb. 28. They then found ricin in all stages of production. Metro confiscated castor beans, which are used to create ricin. Police found powder in the beginning stage of making ricin and several vials of actual ricin.

Bergendorff went to the hospital Feb. 14 with respiratory problems. He is still in a coma.

At this point, detectives don't know for sure what the ricin was made for. The only real witness is in a coma, but the search warrants specifically say police were looking for letters, diaries, or recordings that may have threats received or delivered by Bergendorff. 

FBI talking to hospitalized man at center of Las Vegas ricin case

Associated Press - March 14, 2008 4:05 PM ET

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A man who may have been exposed to toxic ricin in his Las Vegas motel room has regained consciousness and is being questioned by investigators.

Authorities say 57-year-old Roger Bergendorff is still in critical condition at Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas.

But FBI Special Agent David Staretz in Las Vegas tells The Associated Press that investigators are speaking with Bergendorff.

That's a first since Bergendorff was hospitalized on Valentine's Day.

He was said to be in a coma when several vials of ricin powder were found Feb. 28 in his motel room at an extended stay motel several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip.

Officials insist they've found no contamination anywhere, and no link to terrorism.

But they consider ricin a "biological weapon," and are trying to determine where it came from.

That's why and an explanation from Bergendorff is so crucial.

Brother: Man Blames Ricin for Illness

By ALLISON HOFFMAN
March 17, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A man who has been hospitalized since Valentine's Day with respiratory ailments and failing kidneys told his brother he believes he was contaminated by the deadly ricin poison found in his Las Vegas motel room.

Roger Bergendorff regained consciousness on Wednesday but remains in critical condition at a Las Vegas medical center.

His younger brother, Erich Bergendorff, told The Associated Press that they spoke briefly on the telephone Sunday for the first time since the ricin was found, and said Roger claimed he had never had any intention of endangering anyone with the toxin.

"He did mention that he would have never done anything to anybody," said Erich Bergendorff. "He himself is under the impression he was contaminated by it — he did mention the ricin and seemed to say something like, 'Gee, it sure worked on me.'"

Erich Bergendorff said his brother told him the ricin was easy to make. But he added that his brother, who was on a ventilator until last week, still had a hard time speaking clearly, so it was not clear whether Roger Bergendorff made it himself or watched someone else manufacture the powder.

"He did talk as thought he just had it there, he was almost kind of casual about it," said Erich Bergendorff, who talked to his brother on the phone from his home in Escondido, Calif., north of San Diego. "It's almost as though in his own mind it wasn't that big of a deal."

Roger Bergendorff, 57, was questioned by investigators from the FBI and the Las Vegas police on Friday in hopes that he could provide information about the Feb. 28 discovery of the ricin powder and castor beans, from which it is derived.

Officials from both agencies declined to comment about what they learned.

Doctors have not formally diagnosed Roger Bergendorff. Experts said his symptoms appeared consistent with ricin exposure, but the poison breaks down in the body within days, making it hard to trace.

Ricin can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. It has no antidote and is only legal for cancer research.

In court documents, police described the amount of ricin found in the vials as "a large quantity" and characterized the poison as a "biological weapon." But officials have said they have not found evidence in the motel room or elsewhere of contamination and have downplayed the possibility that Bergendorff posed a threat.

Friends and family members described Bergendorff, an illustrator, as a loner who struggled to pay his bills while moving around California, Nevada and Utah with his beloved dog, Angel, and pet cats. He had lived in recent months at the Extended Stay America motel several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip while waiting for a freelance job contract.

Erich Bergendorff said his brother was deeply saddened by the death of their older brother in January, but insisted Roger Bergendorff had not been suicidal.

"He did say he felt very empty with his loss," said Erich Bergendorff, who added that his brother was lonely in the hospital and newly distraught after learning that his dog was euthanized after the Humane Society found her starving and without water in his motel room.

Police say a cousin, Thomas Tholen, of Riverton, Utah, was collecting Bergendorff's belongings from his room on Feb. 28 when he gave a motel manager a plastic bag containing several vials of what turned out to be ricin powder. Police later found four "anarchists cookbooks" in the room marked at sections describing how to make ricin. Firearms also were found in the room.

Authorities said they found no traces of ricin in the room, in the motel manager's office, in a Las Vegas Strip hotel room where Tholen stayed, or in vehicles belonging to Tholen and Bergendorff.

Bergendorff had, by that time, been hospitalized for two weeks. Police said he summoned an ambulance Feb. 14, complaining of respiratory distress. He was taken to the Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center, where his condition was variously described later as comatose and unconscious.

Man Says Ricin Belonged to His Brother

By ALLISON HOFFMAN
March 17, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The man at the center of a ricin scare at a Las Vegas motel says he never had any intention of hurting anyone with the deadly biological agent, his brother told The Associated Press.

Roger Bergendorff, who finally regained consciousness last week after almost a month of hospitalization, possessed the ricin powder found in his motel room in February and believes he was contaminated by it, said Erich Bergendorff, who talked to his brother on the phone Sunday.

"He just confirmed that it was not intended for anybody," Erich Bergendorff said in a telephone interview from his home north of San Diego in Escondido. "It was something that would be used for his own purposes, for self-defense."

Roger Bergendorff, 57, was upgraded from critical to fair condition Monday at Spring Valley Medical Center.

Erich Bergendorff said his brother was cooperating with investigators who questioned him at the hospital Friday. Las Vegas police referred questions to the FBI, which declined to comment Monday.

Erich Bergendorff said Sunday's conversation was his first with Roger since he regained consciousness. He said his brother told him the ricin powder was easy to make but wasn't clear on whether he or someone else made it.

"He did talk as though he just had it there; he was almost kind of casual about it," Erich Bergendorff said. "... He did mention the ricin and seemed to say something like, 'Gee, it sure worked on me.'"

Ricin can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. It has no antidote and is legal only for cancer research.

In court documents, police said "a large quantity" of ricin was in vials found in Roger Bergendorff's hotel room. He summoned an ambulance Feb. 14, complaining of respiratory distress, but the ricin wasn't discovered until a cousin went to the hotel to pick up his belongings two weeks later.

Police say they also found firearms in the room, along with castor beans — from which ricin is derived — and four "anarchists cookbooks" in the room, marked at sections describing how to make ricin. But officials have said they have not found evidence in the motel room or elsewhere of contamination and have downplayed the possibility that Roger Bergendorff posed a threat.

Authorities have refused to say whether they plan to charge Roger Bergendorff, who had been suffering from respiratory ailments and failing kidneys.

Doctors have not formally diagnosed his condition, his family said. Hospital spokeswoman Naomi Jones declined to specify details, citing patient confidentiality rules.

Experts have said his symptoms appeared consistent with ricin exposure, but the poison breaks down in the body within days, making it hard to trace.

Ricin is categorized as a biological agent under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, which provides for the possibility of life in prison and unspecified fines for production, acquisition or possession of a biological agent, according to Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

Mere possession for purposes other than "bona fide research" or "other peaceful purpose" carries the possibility of fines and up to 10 years in federal prison, Boyd said.

Nevada state law makes manufacturing or possessing a biological weapon or toxin a felony punishable by up to 10 years to life in state prison.

Friends and family members described Bergendorff, an illustrator, as a loner who struggled to pay his bills while moving around California, Nevada and Utah with his beloved dog and cats.

He had lived in recent months at the Extended Stay America motel several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip while waiting for a freelance job contract.

Erich Bergendorff said his brother was deeply saddened by the death of their older brother in January but insisted Roger Bergendorff had not been suicidal.

"He did say he felt very empty with his loss," said Erich Bergendorff. He added that his brother was lonely in the hospital and newly distraught after learning that his dog was euthanized after the Humane Society found her starving and without water in his motel room.

Associated Press writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report from Las Vegas.

Apr. 03, 2008
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Utah suspect faces charges in ricin case
Authorities: Cousin of man found in LV hotel lied about deadly substance

By PAUL FOY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Utah man was indicted Wednesday on charges he lied to authorities about the production of deadly ricin that was found in a Las Vegas hotel room, but his lawyer says the man knows nothing about the dangerous substance.

Authorities believe the ricin was made in the Salt Lake City area and that it was to have been used for an uncertain criminal purpose in what they broadly called a "lone wolf scenario."

A federal grand jury charged Thomas Tholen, 54, with misprision of felony, having knowledge of a crime but failing to report it and then trying to conceal it, U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said.

"He knew more than he stated, and he misrepresented what he knew," Tolman said Wednesday.

The manufacture or possession of ricin, a biological agent, is prohibited by federal law.

Tholen's cousin, Roger Von Bergendorff, remains in a Las Vegas hospital and is a target of the investigation, said Tim Fuhrman, special agent in charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City field office.

Bergendorff, 57, an unemployed graphic artist, on Feb. 14 summoned an ambulance from his Las Vegas motel room, complaining of respiratory distress.

Bergendorff spent almost four weeks in a coma and has been treated for kidney failure, but it has not been determined if he was sickened by the ricin.

Tholen was collecting Roger Bergendorff's belongings from the motel room on Feb. 28 when he gave a motel manager a plastic bag containing several vials of what turned out to be ricin powder.

Both men "contemplated production of this for criminal purposes," Tolman said.

He said authorities were uncertain who made the substance. Nor are they certain of a motive.

But at a news conference Wednesday, Tolman and Fuhrman repeatedly brought up a possible lone wolf scenario where the ricin would be used selectively to harm someone.

Fuhrman, however, said investigators have turned up no evidence suggesting the ricin was part of a broader or indiscriminate terrorist plot.

Authorities who searched Tholen's house in the Salt Lake city suburb of Riverton and a storage shed haven't determined where the ricin was made, but they are certain the extract of castor beans was made in this area and that Tholen knew about it, Fuhrman said.

Bergendorff, who regained consciousness March 12, hasn't been charged.

"This is an ongoing investigation," FBI spokesman David Staretz in Las Vegas said Wednesday, declining comment.

Spring Valley Hospital spokeswoman Naomi Jones said Bergendorff remained in fair condition and was not under protective custody.

"He's being treated like any other patient at the hospital," she said.

Tholen answered FBI investigators' questions, but agents "feel he knows more than he's letting on," said Greg Skordas, the defendant's attorney.

"He was cooperative in an interview, in the search of his house, and his wife has been cooperative. So we're disappointed he gets indicted after all that," Skordas said.

Tholen maintains he can't offer any explanation for the ricin, because "there isn't anything to explain. It wasn't his," Skordas said.

Man sickened by ricin seen as acting alone
By The Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 04/04/2008 03:24:27 AM MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Authorities believe a man sickened by the deadly toxin ricin was a "lone wolf" who manufactured the substance intending to do some kind of harm, an FBI agent said Thursday.

Investigators believe Roger Bergendorff manufactured the ricin in the Salt Lake City area, but they haven't been able to turn up any evidence of the location, agent Juan Becerra said.

"This could be somebody mad about taxes or the fact that the transit bus didn't come — whatever the situation may be," said Becerra, an FBI spokesman in Salt Lake City. "All of a sudden you've got a potential full-blown public-safety hazard."

Bergendorff is a target of the investigation but hasn't been charged, said Tim Fuhrman, another FBI agent. It could not be immediately determined if Bergendorff had a lawyer.

On Wednesday, Bergen dorff's cousin was indicted by a federal grand jury for failing to report that the substance was being illegally produced. Thomas Tholen, 54, was charged with misprision of felony — having knowledge of a crime but failing to report it.

Bergendorff was hospitalized in Las Vegas on Feb. 14. He spent almost four weeks in a coma and has been treated for kidney failure.

Man at center of Las Vegas ricin case arrested, charged

Apr 16 01:19 PM US/Eastern
By KEN RITTER
Associated Press Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A man who authorities believe was sickened by the deadly toxin ricin was arrested Wednesday on federal charges after he was released from a hospital.

Roger Bergendorff, 57, had been hospitalized since Feb. 14.

He is charged with possession of a biological toxin and two weapons offenses stemming from materials authorities said were found Feb. 26 and Feb. 28 in his room at an extended-stay motel several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip.

"He was released from the hospital and he's in custody," said Agent Joseph Dickey, spokesman for the FBI office in Las Vegas.

The three charges carry a possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine. Bergendorff was scheduled appear Wednesday afternoon before a federal judge in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

A six-page complaint alleges that Bergendorff obtained castor beans, from which ricin is derived, by mail in June 2002, and made ricin from them while living in the basement of his cousin's house in Riverton, Utah.

Bergendorff's cousin, Thomas Tholen, 54, was indicted earlier this month in Salt Lake City for allegedly failing to report that the substance was being illegally produced.

Tholen was charged with misprision of felony, which officials said means he had knowledge of a crime but failed to report it.

The manufacture or possession of ricin, a biological agent, is prohibited by federal law. The only legal use for the substance is cancer research.

The New York Times
Man Hospitalized From Ricin Arrested

By STEVE FRIESS
Published: April 17, 2008

Las Vegas — A man hospitalized for two months after being sickened by the deadly toxin ricin in his motel room was arrested upon his release from a hospital here Wednesday and charged with possession of the substance.

The federal indictment against Roger Von Bergendorff, 57, describes a man who enjoyed experimenting with production of the substance derived from castor beans but who had no specific intention to use it against anyone, an F.B.I. agent, Joseph Dickey, said.

“Based on the results of our investigation, we don’t believe that the public was ever in danger nor do we believe that this was any terrorist plot,” Mr. Dickey said.

Mr. Von Bergendorff, expected to be arraigned this afternoon, set off a panic when the ricin was found in his motel room on Feb. 26 one mile west of the Las Vegas Strip. It was found by his cousin, who had come from Utah to remove Mr. Von Bergendorff’s belongings from the room. By that point, Mr. Von Bergendorff had been hospitalized since falling ill on Feb. 14 , and was comatose and suffering from respiratory distress, .

Investigators also found the accouterments of ricin production as well as a cache of guns and two silencers in the room. Mr. Von Bergendorff is also charged with two counts of unlawful gun possession.

The six-page indictment said Mr. Von Bergendorff told investigators he had been experimenting with ricin production since the 1990s and had made ricin in Utah and Reno, Nev., in recent years. He described learning to make it as “an exotic idea” and told them he has “experimented with a lot of things, even counterfeiting.”

Mr. Von Bergendorff was an unemployed computer graphic artist whose work has appeared on several science fiction novels before his illness.

Ricin can be extremely lethal. As little as 500 micrograms — about the size of the head of a pin — can kill a human, according to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Man held in Las Vegas ricin case appears in federal court 

By Ken Ritter
ASSOCIATED PRESS
6:44 p.m. April 16, 2008

LAS VEGAS – From his wheelchair, an unemployed graphic designer who authorities believe was nearly killed by ricin told a federal judge Wednesday that he would never have used the toxin that he is accused of making as part of an “exotic” plot.

“Your honor, I'm not a criminal,” Roger Bergendorff said in his first public comment since authorities reported finding 4 grams of the deadly toxin in vials in his motel room several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip. 

In a breathy rasp that illustrated a mental and physical condition that even the judge acknowledged was poor, Bergendorff, 57, protested that it was “not in my blood” to spread the poison that a prosecutor calculated could have killed at least 522 people.

“I didn't use that stuff,” Bergendorff said as his court-appointed lawyer advised him not to say more, “because I couldn't.”

The outburst didn't sway U.S. Magistrate Peggy Leen, who declared Bergendorff a danger to the community and ordered him held without bail in custody of U.S. marshals until a May 2 preliminary hearing or grand jury indictment.

Authorities do not allege Bergendorff had ricin as an act of terrorism or that he attempted to poison anyone, according to court documents.

“At this time we are not aware of any broader scheme or plot involving Mr. Bergendorff,” U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower in Las Vegas said outside the courthouse.

Bergendorff was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday as he was released from a Las Vegas hospital where had been treated since Feb. 14.

He was not asked in court to enter a plea to charges of possession of a biological toxin, ricin, and two weapons offenses alleging that he owned guns found Feb. 26 and Feb. 28 in his room at an extended-stay motel. 

Bergendorff and his lawyer, Paul Riddle, acknowledged the seriousness of the charges, which carry a possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine.

They also denied Bergendorff was sickened by ricin.

“His poor health is not a result of exposure to ricin,” Riddle told the judge. He said Bergendorff fell ill in February to pneumonia and kidney failure, resulting from a mental and emotional downturn after his older brother died in January.

Bergendorff, who had a history of treatment for depression and anxiety, summoned an ambulance Feb. 14 to the motel where he lived with his dog and two cats. He complained of respiratory distress and spent almost four weeks unconscious at a Las Vegas hospital in what police variously described as a coma and medical sedation.

Officials said his symptoms were consistent with ricin exposure, but said they could not determine if Bergendorff was sickened by ricin because the substance breaks down as it is metabolized by the body. It was two weeks after Bergendorff's hospitalization before authorities said the substance was discovered at his motel.

A cousin, Thomas Tholen, was collecting Bergendorff's belongings Feb. 28 when he gave a motel manager a plastic bag containing several vials of what turned out to be ricin powder.

Investigators have said they found no ricin contamination anywhere Bergendorff stayed.

Brower called it a federal offense to possess a biological agent for anything other than research or peaceful purposes. Cancer research is the only legal use for the substance, which has no antidote and can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin.

“Bergendorff characterized the production of ricin as an 'exotic idea,'” prosecutors said in a six-page complaint.

Over the course of several interviews with the FBI, “Bergendorff admitted that there have been people who have made him mad over the years and he had thoughts about causing them harm to the point of making some plans,” the complaint says. “However, he maintained that he never acted on those thoughts or plans.”

Brower said the charges of possession of unregistered firearms and possession of firearms not identified by serial number stemmed from the seizure by Las Vegas police of two .25-caliber pistols, a .22-caliber Ruger rifle and a .22-caliber Browning pistol with a silencer.

Court documents allege Bergendorff first produced ricin while living in San Diego, and obtained castor beans by mail in June 2002 while he lived in Reno.

Prosecutors allege he made the ricin found in Las Vegas while living in Reno and in the basement of Tholen's house in Riverton, Utah. Bergendorff told investigators his cousin was not involved.

However, Bergendorff told authorities that in December 2005 he showed Tholen a vial or beaker with a powder believed to be ricin, documents show.

“Although he did not witness the production,” the complaint says, “Tholen believes that Bergendorff produced the ricin in his basement.”

Tholen, 54, declined comment when reached by telephone Wednesday.

He was indicted April 2 by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City for allegedly failing to report that the substance was being illegally produced. He faces a court appearance April 29 on a federal charge of misprision of felony, which officials said means he had knowledge of a crime but failed to report it.

Tholen's lawyer, Greg Skordas of Salt Lake City, denied Tholen knew Bergendorff had ricin.

“Tom always maintained that he was unaware of Bergendorff ever producing or possessing or manufacturing ricin while they were together,” Skordas said.

The complaint says that along with the ricin seized Feb. 28, authorities found syringes, beakers and castor beans from which ricin is derived. The court document refers to the substance as “crude” and 2.9 percent “active ricin.”

“That's not pure,” said Andrew Ternay Jr., founder of the Rocky Mountain Center for Homeland Defense at the University of Denver and author of “The Language of Nightmares,” a glossary of terms for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

“But it is deadly, no matter,” Ternay said. “It's just that it would take more to kill someone.”

Roger Bergendorff's brother, Erich Bergendorff, said he spoke by telephone Tuesday with Bergendorff, who he said he was anticipating leaving the hospital and did not believe he would face charges.

“But I don't think that was based on fact,” said Erich Bergendorff, who lives in Escondido, Calif. “It's my impression that he didn't understand the hazard he posed.”

Associated Press writer Allison Hoffman in San Diego contributed to this report. 

CNN.com
updated 8:37 p.m. EDT, Mon August 4, 2008
Man pleads guilty to ricin possession

(CNN) -- A Nevada man who reportedly poisoned himself with ricin in his Las Vegas motel room pleaded guilty Monday to possession of a biological toxin, prosecutors said.

 Roger Bergendorff, 57, who was hospitalized for two months with suspected ricin poisoning, also pleaded guilty to possession of unregistered firearms.

Ricin is a toxic byproduct of processing castor beans for oil and is capable of killing body cells.

"Used improperly, ricin can be a very dangerous and deadly weapon," said U.S. Attorney Greg Brower in Nevada. "Fortunately, in this case, the ricin is not believed to have caused any harm to the public."

Bergendorff, who was living at the Extended Stay America Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, knowingly possessed ricin in February for an "unjustified purpose," according to court documents.

At the time, Bergendorff also possessed a .22 caliber pistol with an unregistered silencer attached, as well as a second unregistered silencer. Neither of the silencers were registered to Bergendorff, authorities said.

Bergendorff was hospitalized on February 14 complaining of breathing difficulties. Two weeks later, his cousin, Thomas Tholen, 54, of Riverton, Utah, discovered the toxin when he went to recover Bergendorff's belongings from his hotel room.

Authorities also said a search of the room found guns, the book "Anarchist's Cookbook," a collection of instructions on poisons and other dangerous recipes and castor beans, syringes and beakers.

Bergendorff previously lived in Tholen's home. After the discovery of the ricin, the FBI searched the home as well as storage units Bergendorff used in Utah. Authorities said FBI agents searching the storage units found castor beans, chemicals used in the production of ricin, a respirator, filters, laboratory glassware, syringes and a notebook on ricin production.

Tholen has pleaded not guilty to charges he knew his cousin was producing ricin and failed to report it to federal authorities.

Bergendorff is scheduled to be sentenced November 3. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count.

Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 37 months in prison.

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