FBI agents say they don't think the Marion County man is connected to terrorist groups. Agents aren't saying how or why he got the toxin.
By Associated Press
Published January 14, 2005
OCALA - A waiter was arrested and accused of possessing the lethal toxin ricin at his home, authorities said Thursday.
Steven Michael Ekberg, 22, was detained late Wednesday. He faces a charge of possession of a biological agent, which can carry a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison.
FBI agents said they don't think Ekberg is connected to terrorist groups, but they didn't say how or why he obtained the ricin.
"The chemical substance is derived from the castor bean, and that's a natural substance. I don't think castor beans are difficult to obtain," said FBI Special Agent Jeff Westcott in Jacksonville. "There are instructions and details on the Internet for people who are of a mind to create it."
Ekberg remained in jail pending a hearing next week. His mother, Theresa Ekberg, who lives with him, declined to comment.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office received a tip on New Year's Eve that Ekberg had visited clubs while carrying several firearms, a violation of the concealed weapons permit law. The informer also said Ekberg had shown off a box containing glass tubes, vials and jars, as well as white, brown and red seeds. Ekberg had said one of the vials held ricin, the informer said.
"Ekberg had stated that if the government ever did anything to him, he would take some sort of action," according to a criminal complaint, citing the informer, filed in U.S. District Court in Ocala.
Ekberg was first arrested and released last week on charges related to possession of cocaine and violating the concealed weapons law. Sheriff's deputies and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents then searched his home. They found automatic and semiautomatic weapons and a cardboard box containing chemicals that were found after analysis to contain ricin, according to a sheriff's report.
During the search, his mother told agents that her son, who works at a restaurant, had suffered from depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as little as 500 micrograms of ricin, about the amount that fits on the head of a straight pin, is enough to kill an adult. Lethal doses depend on how the poison is delivered - powder, mist, pellet or dissolved in water. The poison can be made from waste left over from processing castor beans.
Last year, ricin was found in the mail room of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Three Senate office buildings were shut down for several days, and about two dozen staffers and Capitol police officers underwent decontamination.