Ricin found in sick man's Vegas hotel room

Mar 3, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – A Las Vegas man remained unconscious today with suspected ricin poisoning after the deadly toxin derived from castor beans was found in his Las Vegas motel room last week, according to news services.

Vials of ricin along with castor beans were found in the man's room at an Extended Stay America hotel in Las Vegas on Feb 28, according to a New York Times report today. The man, identified as Roger Von Bergendorff, has been hospitalized and unconscious since Feb 14, the Associated Press (AP) reported today.

Health officials were still trying to confirm whether Von Bergendorff's respiratory illness was due to ricin exposure, the AP reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a Feb 29 health advisory, said "preliminary results of environmental testing" at laboratories in Nevada indicated the presence of ricin.

As little as 500 micrograms of ricin can be fatal, depending on the route of exposure, according to the CDC. The substance, a byproduct of processing of castor beans into castor oil, can be made into a powder, mist, or pellet, and can also be dissolved in water.

The FBI said there was no indication of terrorist activity and no signs that ricin had been spread in the environment, according to the AP. But Von Bergendorff's hotel room contained several guns and a book on anarchism tabbed to a page on how to make ricin, news reports said.

Von Bergendorff's cousin, Thomas Tholen of Riverton, Utah, found the ricin in the hotel room when he entered it Feb 28 to collect the sick man's belongings, after hotel managers had started eviction proceedings, according to the Times.

Von Bergendorff had lived with Tholen until last fall, and yesterday authorities searched Tholen's home and a storage space for clues in the case, the Times reported. The AP said officials gave no information about what they found.

The Times said Von Bergendorff is believed to be a computer graphic artist whose work has appeared in some science fiction novels. Police also found three cats and an emaciated dog in his hotel room, the story said.

The United States has had several ricin scares in recent years. In February 2004 ricin powder was found in the office of then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., prompting the closure of several Senate office buildings.

Later that same month, the FBI released a photo of a letter addressed to the White House that contained ricin along with a threat to "turn D.C. into a ghost town" if new trucking regulations went into effect. A similar letter containing ricin had been found in October 2003 at an airport postal facility in Greeneville, S.C. Both letters were signed "Fallen Angel."

See also:

Feb 29 CDC health advisory on ricin incident
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/ricin/han_022008.asp

CDC information on ricin
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/ricin/index.asp

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