A Southern California man who admitted to trying to buy the lethal biotoxin ricin in an attempt to kill his wife pleaded guilty Monday in Los Angeles federal court in a crime FBI agents said “shocks the conscience.”
Steve S. Kim, 41, of La Crescenta, could have faced a life sentence in federal custody. But Kim will likely serve a 7-year prison term in a plea agreement worked out with prosecutors, U.S. Attorney’s officials said in a statement. In the deal, Kim pleaded to violating federal biological weapons statutes. Kim will be sentenced Nov. 18 before U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter.
Kim described “marital issues between him and his wife” in admitting to the poison purchases, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing an FBI agent’s sworn statement.
Ricin’s effects are devastating. Mere grains of the highly toxic substance derived from castor beans prove fatal and there is no antidote. Law enforcement considers the agent a tool of mass destruction.
“The idea of intentionally using a biological agent to do harm shocks the conscience,” said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. The FBI and U.S. Postal Service investigated the case. “This case demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to holding accountable actors who use or attempt to use weapons of mass destruction to carry out acts of terrorism or violence.”
The La Crescenta man tried to purchase the toxin over a two-month period late last year, using bitcoin to buy the ricin from an online dealer, U.S. Attorney’s officials said in a statement. La Crescenta is in the San Gabriel foothills of unincorporated Los Angeles County about 5 miles northwest of Pasadena.
An undercover FBI agent posed as the dealer. Federal prosecutors say Kim paid 320 euros – about $350 – in the digital currency for an amount that would kill a person who weighed 110 pounds.
FBI agents hid fake ricin inside a package containing a toy, slipped a tracking device inside the package and shipped it to Kim’s Los Angeles office in late November 2018.
The undercover agent told Kim to expect the parcel at his Los Angeles worksite, according to the Times’ report, citing an agent’s sworn statement.
“Ricin is an incredibly dangerous biological toxin – just a few tiny grains can kill a human,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement Monday announcing the plea. “Because it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction and there is no antidote for ricin poisoning, any attempt to acquire this deadly chemical agent is an extremely serious matter that will prompt a vigorous response.”
Kim opened the package when he got home triggering an alarm that signaled FBI agents to his La Crescenta home. Kim was immediately arrested.