Federal authorities arrested a U.S. Navy veteran in Utah Wednesday after suspicious envelopes were sent to President Donald Trump and top military leaders, some of which contained the natural ingredients used to make the deadly poison ricin.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for Utah said that 39-year-old William Clyde Allen III was taken into custody in Logan, a small city in northern Utah.
Pentagon authorities say two envelopes were addressed to top military chiefs containing the substance from which the poison ricin is derived.
Another envelope was sent to the president with unknown contents. The Secret Service says it didn’t reach the White House.
A Pentagon spokeswoman says the envelopes addressed to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Navy’s top officer, Adm. John Richardson, contained castor seeds. They were isolated at a mail screening facility and sent to the FBI.
No attorney was immediately listed for Allen. The FBI said there were potentially hazardous chemicals involved with their investigation in Utah on Wednesday, but declined to give additional details.
Allen served in the Navy from 1998 to 2002, according to Navy records. He worked as a damage control fireman apprentice.
Two years after his Navy tenure ended, he was charged in a child sex-abuse case involving two girls he had an unspecified “relationship of trust” with, court documents state. He later pleaded guilty to lesser neglect and abuse charges and did not have to register as a sex offender.
That same year, a woman filed a protective order against him in a separate case. He disputed her allegations, the details of which are not public, but agreed to the protective order.
In 2008, he pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated assault and served about 2 ½ years in prison, authorities said. He was released in 2011.
New charges are expected to be filed later this week.
Weaponizing ricin to attack politicians is not new. In 2014, actress Shannon Guess Richardson was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sending ricin-tainted letters to then-President Barack Obama and then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Ricin is a poison from the husks of castor beans, which are the seeds from the castor oil plant commonly found in nature. Castor oil, a strong laxative, is made by removing the husks and crushing the seeds, which have several other medicinal and manufacturing uses as well. Ricin is part of the waste produced when these products are made.
The poison breaches human cells, preventing them from making the proteins they need. Without the proteins, cells die. Eventually, this debilitates the entire body, and death may occur.
The U.S. military experimented with using ricin as a possible warfare agent as far back as World War II. Ricin has been linked to the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s and more recently to terrorist organizations.
Ricin became famous in the Georgi Markov umbrella murder case in London. A Bulgarian communist agent fired a tiny bullet with the substance into the defector’s leg in 1978. Markov died three days later. Investigators at the time suggested that the Soviet agency KGB may have provided the poison.