A Navy veteran in Utah has been charged with threatening to use a biological toxin as a weapon by sending letters to President Donald Trump and other leaders containing ground castor beans, the substance from which ricin is derived.
Charging documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court say 39-year-old William Clyde Allen III told investigators he wanted to "send a message," though he did not elaborate.
Allen, who cried in court while speaking about his ailing wife, could face up to life in prison if convicted on one of the five charges.
He did not enter a plea and his attorney was not available for questions.
Authorities say the envelopes were mailed to Trump, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Navy's top officer, Adm. John Richardson. Some allegedly had Allen's return address.
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Investigators say the letters were intercepted.
Ricin is found naturally in castor beans but it takes a deliberate act to convert it into a biological weapon. Ricin can cause death within 36 to 72 hours from exposure to an amount as small as a pinhead. No known antidote exists.
U.S. government buildings have sporadically received packages with suspected ricin content, including in 2013 when ricin-laced letters were addressed to a U.S. senator, the White House and a Mississippi justice official.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., letters containing another deadly substance, anthrax spores, were mailed to the Washington offices of two senators and to media outlets in New York and Florida.