Cheng Le is expected to be arraigned on Friday for attempting to acquire the deadly toxin

By Caitlin Keating
Updated January 21, 2015 02:45 PM
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A man was arrested in Manhattan for attempting to acquire ricin, according to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York.

Cheng Le, 21, was arrested on Dec. 23 and is expected to be arranged on Friday.

“As alleged, Cheng Le attempted to acquire ricin, a potentially lethal toxin, through the Dark Web so that it could be used for deadly purposes,” said Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Thankfully, with the help of our law enforcement partners he was intercepted and must now answer for his alleged crimes.”

The “Dark Web” is a common term for a number of online marketplaces and websites where often illegal goods like drugs are bought and sold. Ricin is a highly toxic and naturally occurring lectin produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant.

According to the release, Le unknowingly contacted a covert FBI employee in early December on a particular Dark Web marketplace. He messaged the agent to ask about purchasing the illegal substance on behalf of a client.

“I’ll be trying out new methods in the future. After all, it is death itself we’re selling here, and the more risk-free, the more efficient we make it, the better,” Le wrote in one message.

He also laid out his plan for using the ricin on victims, who sound like they were being medicated.

“I probably told you this before, about mixing one and only one toxic pill into a bottle of normal pills,” Le continued. “They all look identical. And as the target takes the medicine every day, sooner or later he’d ingest that poisonous pill and die. Even if there is a murder investigation, they won’t find any more toxin. 100% Risk Free.”

On Dec. 18, Le asked the FBI online covert employee to send ricin to a particular postal box in Manhattan, which the FBI later determined belonged to Le.

Then, on Dec. 22, the FBI prepared a mock shipment of both a fake ricin tablet in a pill bottle and fake ricin power.

After the package was delivered to the postal box on Dec. 23, the FBI saw Le pick it up while wearing latex gloves and take it to his apartment. Armed with a search warrant, FBI agents entered his apartment and found the pill bottle open, according to the release.

Le is charged with one count of attempting to possess a biological toxin for use as a weapon, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is also charged with one count of using a fictitious name “in furtherance of unlawful business involving the mail,” according to authorities.

“It is a complex, multi-layered case and we are currently sifting through the facts,” Le’s lawyer Patrick J. Brackley told the New York Times. He also said that his client would plead not guilty.