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Marion County man to plead guilty to possession of ricin

The plea agreement does not specify that the 22-year-old made the deadly poison.

Associated Press
Published April 20, 2005

OCALA - A 22-year-old waiter has agreed to plead guilty to possessing the lethal toxin ricin after creating it at home using guidebooks on how to make poisons from household chemicals and plants.

Steven Michael Ekberg faced a maximum 10-year prison term, but his plea agreement filed Friday calls for an unspecified sentence under federal guidelines and time off for accepting responsibility for the crime.

No date has been set for him to enter the plea in court, defense attorney David Mengers said Tuesday. Ekberg was arrested in January after the Marion County Sheriff's Office got a telephoned tip that he had weapons and a box full of poisons, including ricin, at home.

The caller told investigators later that Ekberg picked a container out of a box and warned, "If I put this on your food, this would kill you immediately." Holding another container, he said, "This would make you really sick." With a third, he said, "This would kill you but not right away."

A search by the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and sheriff's investigators uncovered a cardboard box in Ekberg's bedroom. A stoppered vial containing a brown granular substance tested positive for ricin, a poison derived from castor beans. Castor beans were found in plastic bags.

The plea agreement does not specify that Ekberg made the poison. The FBI said when Ekberg was arrested that he wasn't thought to have any connection with terrorist groups.

According to a criminal complaint, citing the informer, "Ekberg had stated that if the government ever did anything to him, he would take some sort of action."

His mother, Theresa Ekberg, told reporters her son suffered from depression.

Ekberg, who has been jailed since his arrest, also faces state charges of cocaine possession and carrying a concealed weapon. Along with the boxed poison, agents found an Uzi-type submachine gun, an AK-47-type semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic rifle fitted with a bipod, the sheriff's report said.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as little as 500 micrograms of ricin, an amount that could fit on the head of a pin, can kill an adult. Lethal doses depend on how the poison is delivered - powder, mist, pellet or dissolved in water.

Ricin was found in the mail room of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last year. The discovery led to a shutdown of three Senate office buildings for several days, and about two dozen staffers and Capitol police officers underwent decontamination.

[Last modified April 20, 2005, 02:56:36]

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