An unemployed graphic designer who pleaded guilty to possessing toxic ricin said last week that he distilled the lethal powder in 1998 while living in San Diego from the beans of a backyard castor plant, and carried it with him for a decade while living in Reno, Las Vegas and near Salt Lake City.
"I made it," Roger Bergendorff, 57, said Friday during an interview from the North Las Vegas jail, where he is being held pending sentencing.
Police and prosecutors have cast Bergendorff as a troubled man who acted alone, and they have said the case was not linked to terrorism.
Bergendorff, who pleaded guilty Monday to federal possession of a biological toxin and weapons charges, denied any criminal intent and said he never intentionally or accidentally released any of the lethal powder.
"Absolutely not. Zero chance. I had it triple sealed," Bergendorff said in a series of timed telephone calls he made to a reporter from the jail.
Bergendorff also said he was sure ricin did not cause the breathing problems that prompted him to call an ambulance Feb. 14 to his motel room a few blocks off the Las Vegas Strip.
"It was in a container in my safe and it hadn’t been touched. There was no reason to touch it," he said.
Authorities suspected Bergendorff was exposed to ricin, but said they could not be sure because the poison breaks down in the body within days. Bergendorff was hospitalized for two weeks before the lethal powder was discovered in his room.
Bergendorff, who remained in a wheelchair Monday during his appearance in a U.S. District Court, blamed his illness on stress following the death of his older brother. He said he fell unconscious before arriving at a hospital, and didn’t remember anything else until he awoke three weeks later from what he described as a coma.
Officials with the FBI interviewed him several times, he said, and he told the truth in interviews that preceded his arrest April 16, the day he was released from the hospital.
He pleaded guilty Monday to two charges. Prosecutors and Bergendorff’s lawyer, Paul Riddle, agreed he should receive a sentence of 37 months in federal prison.
Ricin has no antidote and can be lethal in amounts as small as the head of a pin. It prevents the body from synthesizing proteins and shuts down vital organs such as the liver, kidneys and heart.