Man indicted on federal ricin charges
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS – An unemployed graphic designer who moved from a hospital bed to a jail cell last week was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges he possessed deadly ricin and weapons.
Roger Bergendorff, 57, was indicted on the same three counts the FBI arrested him for last Wednesday after he had been hospitalized for two months with suspected ricin poisoning: possession of a biological toxin, possession of unregistered firearms and possession of firearms not identified by serial number. The indictment allows federal prosecutors to bypass a preliminary hearing.
Bergendorff and his federal public defender, Paul Riddle, did not appear when U.S. District Court Magistrate Peggy Leen unsealed the indictment and scheduled Bergendorff for an arraignment May 2, federal prosecutor Gregory Damm said.
Damm declined further comment.
Riddle said the indictment was not a surprise and that Bergendorff will plead not guilty.
The charges against Bergendorff carry a possible penalty of 30 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine.
The indictment also contains an allegation that would let the government confiscate two of the five weapons seized in February from Bergendorff’s extended-stay motel room several blocks off the Las Vegas Strip – a .22-caliber Browning semiautomatic handgun with a silencer and a .22-caliber silencer with no serial number.
Authorities already confiscated the vials they found containing some 4 grams of “crude” powdered ricin, an intensely toxic substance that can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. It has no antidote, and no legal use other than cancer research.
Prosecutors allege Bergendorff first made ricin in the 1990s, and possessed it while living in the San Diego, Reno and Salt Lake City areas before moving to Las Vegas.
He told the FBI he kept it in case he needed to hurt unspecified enemies. Authorities said they do not believe it had anything to do with terrorism.
Leen deemed Bergendorff a danger to the community and ordered him held without bail in federal custody at the North Las Vegas city jail. U.S. marshals have refused to release a booking photo, and Riddle declined a request to interview his client.
Bergendorff was hospitalized Feb. 14 and spent several weeks in what authorities variously described as a coma and heavy sedation before he was released from a Las Vegas hospital April 16 into the waiting arms of FBI agents.
Officials have said Bergendorff’s ailments were consistent with ricin exposure, but the source of his illness may never be certain because all traces of the substance are eliminated from the body within days. The ricin in his motel room was found well after he got sick.
Riddle has denied his client was sickened by ricin, attributing his poor health to pneumonia and kidney failure resulting from a mental and emotional downturn after his older brother died in January.
Bergendorff’s cousin Thomas Tholen, 54, of Riverton, Utah, was charged this month in Salt Lake City with failing to report a crime. His lawyer, Greg Skordas, denies Tholen knew Bergendorff had ricin.
Police and homeland security officials have said they found no ricin contamination in any place Bergendorff stayed.