Prosecutors say Man to Plead Guilty in Ricin Case

By: Ken Ritter AP
By: Ken Ritter AP

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A man believed to have poisoned himself with toxic ricin in his Las Vegas motel room will plead guilty to federal charges, prosecutors said Monday.

Roger Bergendorff was scheduled to appear later in the day before U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones, U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Natalie Collins said.

Further details about the agreement were not released.

Bergendorff, 57, had been charged with possession of a biological toxin and two weapons violations, each carrying a possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines. He had pleaded not guilty.

Federal public defender Paul Riddle didn't immediately return a telephone call.

Trial has been set to begin Sept. 9 for the unemployed graphic designer who authorities suspect poisoned himself in his extended-stay room just off the Las Vegas Strip.

Bergendorff has been in federal custody since his arrest April 16, after two months in a Las Vegas hospital.

Authorities have said the case has no ties to terrorism, but that Bergendorff admitted keeping ricin for protection against unspecified personal enemies.

Las Vegas police and federal authorities reported finding about 4 grams of "crude" powdered ricin Feb. 28 in Bergendorff's motel room, along with illegal silencers for .22-caliber weapons. Police also confiscated several how-to manuals for producing ricin, and castor beans from which the substance can be derived.

Ricin can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. A federal prosecutor told a judge he believes Bergendorff had enough of the powder to kill more than 500 people.

Bergendorff's cousin, Thomas Tholen, of Riverton, Utah, is awaiting trial in federal court in Salt Lake City after pleading not guilty to one felony count of knowing about a crime but failing to report it.

Federal prosecutors allege Tholen knew Bergendorff made ricin in Utah before moving to Las Vegas.

Bergendorff summoned an ambulance Feb. 14, complaining of breathing trouble, and was also was treated for kidney failure.

Authorities said his symptoms were consistent with ricin exposure, although his attorney denied ricin made him sick. Traces of the substance are eliminated from the body within days, and ricin was not found in Bergendorff's motel room until two weeks after he went to the hospital.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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