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Inspired by ‘Breaking Bad,’ Pennsylvania researcher attempted to acquire ricin, federal government says


A Pennsylvania man inspired by “Breaking Bad” admitted to lying about his attempts to buy potent poisons, officials said.

Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, a former research director at a Massachusetts biotech company, pleaded guilty this week to obstructing justice during an FBI investigation into his attempts to acquire ricin and convallatoxin.

Ricin is a poison in castor seeds and covallatoxin is a poison found in lily of the valley plants.

Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry professor turned methamphetamine maker played by Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad,” uses the poisons on several rivals.

After watching the popular series, officials say Saaem wanted to acquire castor seeds and lily of the valley plants in 2015. He ordered six lily of the valley plants online and 100 castor seed packets containing eight seeds each, according to the officials. .

About a week later, FBI agents met Saaem in his office at the biotech company. Saaem told officers he bought the castor beans to plant in his Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment, officials said.

“But that same day, and during the summer of 2015, Saaem looked for other sources of the deadly poison,” says a plea deal.

Saaem visited a website about extracting cyanide from apple seeds the day he was visited by FBI agents, officials said.

Other sites he visited included articles titled “What’s the Deadliest Poison?” and “The Five Deadly Poisons That Can Be Cooked In A Kitchen,” as well as research into “tasteless household poison,” rat poison, and extracting poison from tomato plants, according to the plea deal.

Authorities did not disclose whether Saaem intended to poison anyone or a possible motive for obtaining the poisons.

As early as this fall until October 2016, Saaem was accused of embezzling $ 275,000 from his employer by submitting bogus invoices and purchase orders, officials said. When the company found out, it refunded the money to avoid prosecution, officials said.

In 2019, Saaem “falsely denied” the embezzlement and told FBI agents of false statements about the company’s payroll systems, officials said.

Last year, he admitted to lying about the embezzlement to avoid being arrested, officials said.

But Saaem made “further misrepresentation” when interviewing officers about the acquisition of castor beans in 2015, knowing they contained ricin, why he bought them, and whether he was looking for it. other poisons, officials said.

Saaem is expected to be sentenced in August. He could go to jail for up to 20 years.



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