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Press Release

New York Man Indicted For Attempting to Acquire Deadly Toxin, Ricin

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos of the FBI’s New York Office, announced today that a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Cheng Le for attempting to acquire and distribute ricin and committing postal fraud.  Le was arrested on Dec. 23, 2014, by the FBI in Manhattan.  He was presented on a Complaint before the U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV on Dec. 24, 2014, and has been detained since his arrest.  He is expected to be arraigned on Friday, January 23, 2015, before the United States District Judge Alison J. Nathan.

“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 U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “Thankfully, with the help of our law enforcement partners he was intercepted and must now answer for his alleged crimes.”

“In the shadows of the Dark Web, criminals hide behind a veil of anonymity, sniffing out hidden opportunities to buy and sell illegal and potentially dangerous merchandise,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos.  “As alleged, in this case, activity carried out in the marketplace served as a conduit for Le to obtain ricin. In his desire to acquire this potentially deadly toxin, he picked his own poison and now faces the consequences of the justice system.”

According to the Complaint, which was unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, and the indictment:

Ricin is a highly potent and potentially fatal toxin with no known antidote.  In December 2014, an individual (the Ricin Buyer) contacted an FBI online covert employee (the OCE) on an online forum.  During Dec. 2014, the Ricin Buyer exchanged a series of messages with the OCE, during which the Ricin Buyer explored the possibility of the OCE supplying the Ricin Buyer with ricin, for the Ricin Buyer to resell to at least one secondary buyer. 

On or about Dec. 18, 2014, the Ricin Buyer directed the OCE to send a quantity of ricin to a particular postal box in Manhattan (the Postal Box).  The FBI later determined that the Postal Box belonged to Cheng Le.  Later that same day, FBI agents observed Le wear latex gloves while retrieving a package from the Postal Box (the Package) and mailing it at a nearby post office (the Post Office).  Law enforcement officers examined the Package, confirmed that it did not contain any hazardous materials, and determined that Le had listed a fake name as the Package’s return address.  A postal employee (the Postal Employee) informed the FBI that the Postal Employee had seen Le at the Post Office on multiple prior occasions and that Le has worn blue latex gloves on at least some of those occasions.

The FBI prepared a package (the Sham Shipment) that was consistent with the Ricin Buyer’s request to the OCE, which was then delivered to the Postal Box.  On Dec. 23, 2014, Le, wearing latex gloves, retrieved the Sham Shipment, opened it, and took the contents to his apartment, whereupon he was arrested by FBI agents.

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The indictment charges Le, 21, in two counts.  Count One charges Le with attempting to possess a biological toxin for use as a weapon, and carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Count Two charges Le with using a fictitious name in furtherance of unlawful business involving the mail, and carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin is grateful for the outstanding investigative efforts of the FBI, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).  Le’s arrest is the result of the close cooperative efforts of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force—which consists of law enforcement officers of the FBI, NYPD, USPIS and other agencies.

The case is being prosecuted by the office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ilan Graff and Andrew D. Beaty are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Joseph Kaster of the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.



Updated June 16, 2016

National Security
Press Release Number: 15-070