Federal officials say there is evidence a man hospitalized in Las Vegas last February for exposure to the bio-toxin ricin had been manufacturing the highly lethal substance out of storage units in West Jordan.
After being hospitalized and critically ill for ricin exposure for several months, federal officials say Roger Von Bergendorff, 57, has made a recovery. Von Bergendorff was arrested Wednesday following his release from a Las Vegas hospital.
He has been charged with possession of biological toxin ricin, possession of unregistered firearms and possession of firearms not identified by serial number.
Speaking from a wheelchair, Bergendorff told a federal judge in his initial court appearance in Las Vegas Wednesday that it was "not in my blood" to use the deadly poison. His lawyer cut him off before he could explain.
The charges carry a possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine. The judge ordered that Bergendorff, 57, remain in custody until a preliminary hearing May 2.
According to the charging documents, Von Bergendorff was residing at an Extended Stay America Hotel in Las Vegas when on Feb. 14 he called emergency personnel complaining he was having trouble breathing. By the time he reached the hospital he was critically ill and placed on life support.
A search of his room revealed several weapons and a copy of the "Anarchist's Cookbook," which contains instructions and recipes for poisonous and dangerous items, among them instructions on how to make ricin.
Ricin's key ingredient is mash from castor beans. Its toxic properties kill body cells on contact. Las Vegas detectives also discovered ricin, castor beans, syringes and beakers.
The case led authorities to several storage units in West Jordan. According to charging documents, Utah FBI agents found more castor beans, various chemicals used in the production of ricin, a respirator, filters, painter's mask, lab glassware, syringes and a notebook on ricin production. Agents described the preparation as "crude."
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.
During interviews with agents, Von Bergendorff said he had experimented with an injection device disguised as a pen and described it as "sick stuff." He also told agents that he had first made ricin when he lived in San Diego in the late 1990s but that he was experimenting and never intended to use it.
Von Bergendorff said he prided himself as being an inventor of dangerous things and told agents he had also made firearms silencers and dabbled in counterfeiting.
In a January 2007 last will and testament, Von Bergendorff left instructions for family members to take things out of the Utah storage units. "Tom, or whoever is closest to my storage unit; should go immediately and remove all of the valuables ... otherwise the IRS or other entity might get them."
Earlier this month, Von Bergendorff's cousin, 54-year-old Thomas Tholen of Riverton, was indicted by a federal grand jury here in Utah on charges that he lied to investigators to cover up the crime.
Federal officials claim when Tholen cleaned out Von Bergendorff's room in Las Vegas, he discovered vials of ricin and took them to the motel office. Six people had to be decontaminated when it was learned it was a deadly toxin. Tholen's family was also decontaminated when they arrived at their home in Riverton. Von Bergendorff had lived with his cousin for a time.Tholen is scheduled to appear in federal court in Salt Lake City on April 29.
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