updated 8/4/2008 6:10:38 PM ET 2008-08-04T22:10:38

An unemployed graphic designer who authorities say poisoned himself with toxic ricin in his Las Vegas motel room pleaded guilty Monday to possessing a biological toxin.

Sitting in a wheelchair, Roger Bergendorff was told he could spend three years and a month in federal prison. He also pleaded guilty to possessing unregistered handgun silencers. A third charge was dropped.

Authorities say the case had no ties to terrorism.

The judge scheduled sentencing for Nov. 3.

Bergendorff, 57, had pleaded not guilty to three charges — possession of a biological toxin and two weapons violations. His trial had been scheduled to begin Sept. 9.

Bergendorff has been in federal custody since his arrest April 16, after two months in a hospital. Authorities suspect he poisoned himself in his room just off the Las Vegas Strip. They said Bergendorff admitted keeping ricin for protection against unspecified personal enemies.

Police and federal authorities reported finding about 4 grams of “crude” powdered ricin Feb. 28 in Bergendorff’s motel room. They also confiscated illegal silencers for .22-caliber weapons, several how-to manuals for producing ricin and castor beans from which the substance can be derived.

Ricin can be lethal in amounts the size of the head of a pin. A federal prosecutor told a judge he believes Bergendorff had enough of the powder to kill more than 500 people.

Bergendorff’s cousin, Thomas Tholen, of Riverton, Utah, is awaiting trial in federal court in Salt Lake City. He pleaded not guilty to one felony count of knowing about a crime but failing to report it.

Bergendorff summoned an ambulance Feb. 14, complaining of breathing trouble. He was also treated for kidney failure.

Authorities said his symptoms were consistent with ricin exposure, although his attorney denied ricin made him sick. Traces of the substance are eliminated from the body within days. Ricin was not found in Bergendorff’s motel room until two weeks after his hospitalization.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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