- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Las Vegas man who fell into a coma after concocting the deadly toxin ricin in his hotel room traded his hospital room yesterday for a jail cell.

Federal agents yesterday arrested Roger Von Bergendorff, 57, as he was discharged from Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, a full two months after he was admitted in critical condition and placed on life support.

He was charged with one count of possession of a biological toxin and two weapons offenses stemming from police searches of his hotel room at Extended Stay America off the Las Vegas Strip.

Mr. Von Bergendorff appeared briefly yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen. He has not entered a plea. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine.

In interviews with federal agents, Mr. Von Bergendorff said he had been making ricin for years, as far back as the late 1990s while living in San Diego, but that he had never used it on anyone.

One of the deadliest poisons known, ricin is made from the discarded mash left over after processing castor beans for oil. The only legal use for ricin is cancer research.

“Bergendorff stated that he did not have a plan to use it and said he experimented with a lot of things, even counterfeiting,” according to the criminal complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

He confirmed that he had made ricin while living in the basement of his cousin’s home in Riverton, Utah, in 2005, and that he had drawn a picture of an “injection device disguised as a pen,” which he described as “sick stuff.”

“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, however he maintained that he never acted on those thoughts or plans,” said the complaint.

Mr. Von Bergendorff was transported to the hospital Feb. 14 after calling 911 to report difficulty breathing. Hotel staff entered his hotel room Feb. 26 to make a list of his possessions before evicting him, and notified police after finding several firearms.

Las Vegas police discovered four weapons, including two semiautomatic pistols, a copy of the “Anarchist’s Cookbook” tabbed to a page on ricin, and a collection of recipes and instructions on how to make various poisons.

Two days later, Mr. Von Bergendorff’s cousin, Thomas Tholen, found a bag in the hotel room containing a beaker and vial with a yellowish white powder and hypodermic needles.

Laboratory tests conducted by the FBI confirmed that the powder contained 2.9 percent active ricin and that the preparation was “crude,” according to the complaint.

Subsequent searches of Salt Lake City storage lockers rented by Mr. Von Bergendorff turned up traces of ricin, castor beans, chemicals used in the production of ricin, a respirator, filters, a painter’s mask, syringes and a notebook with instructions on how to make ricin, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas.

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