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Man sickened by ricin is arrested

Released from Las Vegas hos­pi­tal, he faces tox­in, weapons charges


LAS VEGAS — An unem­ployed graph­ic design­er who author­i­ties believe was near­ly killed by ricin was arrest­ed Wednes­day on fed­er­al charges that he pos­sessed the dead­ly tox­in as part of an “exot­ic idea,” nev­er car­ried out, to poi­son his ene­mies.

Roger Bergen­dorff, who author­i­ties allege began mak­ing ricin a decade ago, was arrest­ed upon his release from the hos­pi­tal where he had been treat­ed 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 FBI agent Joseph Dick­ey, a spokesman for the bureau’s Las Vegas office.

The charges car­ry a pos­si­ble penal­ty of 30 years in fed­er­al prison and a $750,000 fine. Bergen­dorff, 57, was sched­uled to appear Wednes­day after­noon before a fed­er­al judge in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Las Vegas.

Began mak­ing ricin a decade ago
Pros­e­cu­tors said in a six-page com­plaint that Bergen­dorff told inves­ti­ga­tors he first made ricin in San Diego in the late 1990s, and lat­er made the sub­stance while liv­ing in Reno and in the base­ment of his cous­in’s house in River­ton, Utah.

The com­plaint said that a June 2002 receipt for cas­tor bean seed, pur­chased from a Michi­gan com­pa­ny, was found in an Utah stor­age lock­er rent­ed by Bergen­dorff. The list­ed pur­chas­er, “Roger’s Patio and Gar­den,” was appar­ent­ly a fic­ti­tious busi­ness cre­at­ed by Bergen­dorff, the com­plaint said.

Can­cer research is the only legal use for ricin, which has no anti­dote and can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin.

Author­i­ties do not allege Bergen­dorf­f’s pos­ses­sion of ricin had any­thing to do with ter­ror­ism, accord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

“Bergen­dorff char­ac­ter­ized the pro­duc­tion of ricin as an ‘exot­ic idea,’ ” the com­plaint said.

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 said. “How­ev­er, he main­tained that he nev­er act­ed on those thoughts or plans.”

Symp­toms sug­gest­ed ricin expo­sure
Offi­cials say Bergen­dorf­f’s symp­toms were con­sis­tent with ricin expo­sure, but it may nev­er be cer­tain that the tox­in sick­ened him because all traces of the sub­stance are elim­i­nat­ed from the body with­in days, and the ricin in his hotel room was found well after he got sick.

Bergen­dorf­f’s cousin Thomas Tholen, 54, was charged this month in Salt Lake City with mis­pri­sion of felony, which means fail­ing to report a crime.

The com­plaint said Tholen told inves­ti­ga­tors that Bergen­dorff had talked to him about how easy it would be to make ricin, and that Bergen­dorff showed him a vial or beaker with a pow­der he believed to be ricin in Decem­ber 2005.

Tholen declined to com­ment when reached by tele­phone Wednes­day. His lawyer Greg Sko­r­das 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.

Roger Bergen­dorf­f’s broth­er, Erich Bergen­dorff, said he spoke with him Tues­day by tele­phone.

“He just said he was­n’t going to 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.”

Erich Bergen­dorff said he did not know whether his broth­er had spo­ken to an attor­ney.

Four weeks in hos­pi­tal
Bergen­dorff, who lived with his dog and two cats, sum­moned an ambu­lance to his Las Vegas motel room Feb. 14, com­plain­ing of res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­tress. He spent almost four weeks uncon­scious at a Las Vegas hos­pi­tal. Fam­i­ly mem­bers said he also was treat­ed for kid­ney fail­ure.

Tholen was col­lect­ing Bergen­dorf­f’s belong­ings from the motel room Feb. 28 when he gave a motel man­ag­er a plas­tic bag con­tain­ing sev­er­al vials of what turned out to be ricin pow­der.

The com­plaint 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.”

Police and home­land secu­ri­ty offi­cials have said they found no ricin con­t­a­m­i­na­tion in any place Bergen­dorff stayed.

U.S. Attor­ney Gre­go­ry 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.


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