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Man who had ricin in Vegas hotel pleads guilty

Roger Bergendorff was apparently the only one poisoned by his supply of the toxin.

August 05, 2008|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — An unemployed graphic designer who told investigators that he found making ricin an "exotic idea" pleaded guilty Monday to possessing the deadly toxin in a hotel room here.

Roger Bergendorff, 57, also pleaded guilty to a federal weapons charge. (A second weapons charge was dropped.) He could face up to 20 years in prison at his Nov. 3 sentencing, though prosecutors are recommending that he serve a little more than three years.

Bergendorff reportedly fantasized about harming people with the poison -- he had sketched an "injection delivery device" disguised as a pen -- but never carried anything out, court documents said.

There is no indication that Bergendorff was linked to terrorism or was part of a broader plot, said Assistant U.S. Atty. J. Gregory Damm. Bergendorff told investigators that "he experimented with a lot of things, even counterfeiting," court papers said.

At Monday's hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones, the defendant slouched in a wheelchair. His attorney said Bergendorff was too frail to stand. He wore beige prison garb and rested his chin in his right hand, occasionally tucking thinning gray hair behind his ear.

His answers to the judge's questions were clear and succinct -- a marked contrast to an April hearing at which Bergendorff rasped: "I'm not a robber. I'm not a thief. I'm not a rapist. I'm not a child molester. . . . It's not in my blood."

His attorney, Paul Riddle, declined to comment Monday.

In February, Bergendorff was hospitalized with breathing problems and placed on life support, authorities said. He recovered and was released from the hospital in April.

He had been living at an Extended Stay America here with his cats and German shepherd. In Room 3700, authorities recovered about four "crude" grams of the poison, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fluid in the lungs and respiratory or organ failure.

They also found a copy of "The Anarchist Cookbook," with a page about ricin marked; castor beans, whose processed waste is used to make ricin; syringes; beakers; and a weapons cache that included two silencers. Bergendorff said he made the silencers, court papers reported, "because they were fun."

Bergendorff suffers from anxiety and depression and has no prior criminal record, his attorney said at an earlier hearing.

The defendant told authorities he had made ricin in three states, including California, since the late 1990s. Its ingredients are available to the public.

Bergendorff mashed castor beans with acetone, dried out the oil and stored the light-colored powder in a polypropylene container, he told investigators.

In early 2005, he moved in with his cousin Thomas Tholen in a Salt Lake City suburb, where he delivered pizzas. Bergendorff rented three storage units in Utah, where authorities said he kept gloves and chemicals "that could be used in the production of ricin."

Tholen is accused of failing to tell authorities that Bergendorff was making the poison, and is reportedly working on his own plea agreement.

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

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