Pennsylvania Man Charged with Obstruction of Justice Relating to Attempts to Acquire Ricin

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Molecule of ricin, 3D illustration, a highly toxic protein produced in seeds of castor oil plant Ricinus communis

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETS – A Pennsylvania man was charged today with obstructing an investigation into his efforts to acquire the deadly toxin, ricin.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, 37, of Allentown, Penn., was charged with one count of obstruction of justice.

According to the charging document, Saaem held a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, resided in Massachusetts and worked as the director of advanced research at a biotechnology firm based in Massachusetts. Saaem ordered 100 packets of castor beans, each containing eight seeds, online. Ricin is a poison that can be extracted from the seeds (i.e. beans) of the castor oil plant. It is alleged that Saaem falsely told law enforcement agents that he purchased castor beans for planting at his apartment for decoration and that he had accidentally purchased 100 packets instead of one. After he spoke to agents, Saaem allegedly researched tasteless poisons that could be made at home.

During a subsequent meeting with law enforcement personnel, Saeem stated that he only intended to purchase castor beans to plant for decoration when, in reality, it is alleged that he purchased them to use to extract ricin.


The charge of obstruction of justice provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel Mendell and Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kriss Basil of Mendell’s Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case.

The details contained in charging documents are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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