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Ex-Biotechnology Firm Director Lied to FBI

Massachusetts Biotechnology Firm, former research director was indicted on a federal charge on Tuesday after allegedly purchasing hundreds of castor oil plant seeds online. He was researching how to extract the deadly toxin ricin from them. However, he lied to the FBI, saying he wanted to grow “decorative” house plants using those seeds.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, aged 37 years from Allentown, Pennsylvania, was charged with one count of obstruction of justice, Nathaniel Mendell and Joseph R. Bonavolonta. Mendell was the acting attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and Bonavolonta is a special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Field Division.

In June 2015, Saaem held a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and resided in Massachusetts. He worked as the director of advanced research at a biotechnology firm. According to the charging document, he had ordered six lilies of the valley plants and 100 packs of castor beans, each packet containing eight seeds.

Ricin is a poisonous substance that can be extracted from seeds or beans of the castor oil plant. According to the Boston guide’s complete charging sheet, the plant can grow in Massachusetts but cannot survive in winter. Convallatoxin, another toxin, can be extracted from the lily of the valley. It is a perennial garden plant common in England.

Saaem paid $321 for 800 castor beans, but when he was questioned at his office a week later by law enforcement, he said he meant to purchase only one packet instead of 100. He said he was planning to his apartment as a decoration, prosecutors alleged.

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