Cheng Le of New York has been found guilty for his attempt to acquire ricin toxin alongside charges of identity theft and postal fraud, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced Thursday.
Ricin toxin is lethal in small quantities and there is no effective antidote. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that death from ricin poisoning would take place approximately 36 to 72 hours after the initial exposure. Symptoms are dependent on its route of entry, including respiratory distress and tightness of the chest if inhaled and vomiting, bloody diarrhea if ingested. Eventually death would come from multiple organ failure, respiratory failure and low blood pressure.
According to the announcement, Le had utilized a portion of the internet that has many criminal market places known commonly as the dark web. Le had contacted a covert agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in order to make the transaction. In correspondence between Le and the agent, it was revealed his intent to resell the toxin and interest in purchasing more in the future.
In December of 2014, Le had directed a shipment of the toxin to a postal box in Manhattan under an assumed identity, which he stole. The charge of attempting to obtain toxin for use as a weapon carries the possibility of life imprisonment, the charges of postal fraud and identity theft in relation to a terrorism offence both carry potential five-year prison sentences.
“As a unanimous jury has found, Cheng Le attempted to acquire ricin, a potentially lethal toxin, through the dark web so that it could be used to kill without a trace," Bharara said. "As Le himself put it, he was looking for ‘simple and easy death pills’ and ways to commit ‘100 percent risk-free’ murder. Thanks to the FBI, the NYPD and the Postal Inspection Service, he was thwarted in his poisonous plot.”