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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Vermont

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, December 1, 2017

Betty Miller Arrested For Possession of Ricin

The United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stated: 

On November 30, 2017, the FBI arrested Betty Miller, age 70, on a federal criminal complaint charging her with unregistered possession of a select agent, ricin, on or about November 27, 2017.  On December 1, Miller had her initial appearance in federal court in Burlington before The Honorable John M. Conroy, United States Magistrate Judge.  At the hearing, Judge Conroy advised Miller of the charge against her and continued the matter until a probable cause and detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday, December 6, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. Ms. Miller will remain in custody until that time.
 
The case arises from an incident that occurred at the Wake Robin life care community in Shelburne, Vermont.  On November 28, 2017, Vermont law enforcement, the FBI, and first responders reported to Wake Robin after learning of a potentially hazardous substance on the premises.  Subsequent searches that day revealed a bottle labeled “ricin” in Miller’s residence.  The Vermont Forensic Lab confirmed that the bottle contained ricin, a toxin regulated by the federal government due to the severe threat to public health it poses. 

Later in the evening of November 28, members of the FBI and the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) interviewed Miller at the UVM Medical Center. During the interview, Miller stated that she had an interest in plant-based poisons and had conducted internet research on how to make them.  She stated that she manufactured ricin in the kitchen of her Wake Robin residence and, to test its potency, placed the ricin in the food or beverages of other residents.
 
On November 30, 2017, a team of FBI agents from across the Northeast completed searches of Wake Robin and Miller’s vehicle.  The FBI personnel involved had specialized knowledge and training relating to hazardous material and weapons of mass destruction. The FBI has a Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) that is focused on preventing WMDD incidents. The searches turned up no ricin or other hazardous material outside the confines of Miller’s residence.  Inside Miller’s residence, the FBI located ricin, along with components from a number of plants, including apple, yew, cherry, castor and foxglove, which all can be used to produce toxins.

The charge against Miller is an accusation only.  She is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, Miller could face up to five years in prison. 

The USAO and FBI stressed that any threat posed by the substances in Miller’s apartment has been neutralized. There have been no fatalities. The Wake Robin community has cooperated with the FBI and state health officials to ensure all of its residents are safe.

United States Attorney Christina Nolan praised federal, state, and local law enforcement and first responders for their efficient, collaborative response to neutralize the threat and ensure the safety of the community.  She specifically commended the FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Force including representatives from U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She further commended the Vermont State Police, the Shelburne Police Department, the Shelburne Fire Department, the Vermont National Guard 15th Civil Support Team, Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team, the Vermont Department of Health, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the Center for Disease Control and Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, for coming together so swiftly and effectively to protect Vermonters.  Ms. Nolan also thanked the FBI for its immediate deployment of substantial resources to Vermont. 

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia A. P. Cowles is handling the prosecution of Miller on behalf of the USAO.  Miller was represented for purpose of the initial appearance by David McColgin, Esq., of the Office of the Federal Public Defender. 

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Updated December 1, 2017