Inspired by ‘Breaking Bad,’ Pennsylvania researcher tried acquiring ricin, feds say

Chacour Koop
·2 min read

A Pennsylvania man inspired by “Breaking Bad” has admitted to lying about his attempts to buy powerful poisons, officials say.

Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, a former research director at a biotech firm in Massachusetts, pleaded guilty this week to obstruction of justice during an FBI investigation into his attempts to acquire ricin and convallatoxin.

Ricin is a poison from castor beans and covallatoxin is a poison found in lily of the valley plants.

Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned meth maker who’s played by Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad,” uses these poisons on several rivals.

After watching the popular series, officials say Saaem wanted to acquire castor beans and lily of the valley plants in 2015. He ordered six lily of the valley plants online and 100 packets of castor beans containing eight seeds each, officials say.

About a week later, FBI agents met with Saaem in his office at the biotech firm. Saaem told the agents he purchased the castor beans to plant inside his Cambridge, Massachusetts, apartment, officials say.

“But that same day, and continuing through the summer 2015, Saaem researched other sources of deadly poison,” a plea agreement says.

Saaem visited a website about extracting cyanide from apple seeds the day he was visited by FBI agents, officials say.

Other sites he visited included articles titled “What is the most lethal poison?” and “The five deadly poisons that can be cooked up in a kitchen,” as well as searches for “tasteless poison household item,” rat poison and extracting poison from tomato plants, according to the plea agreement.

Authorities did not reveal whether Saaem intended to poison anyone nor a possible motive for obtaining the poisons.

From as early as that fall through October 2016, Saaem was accused of embezzling $275,000 from his employer by submitting phony invoices and purchase orders, officials say. When the company discovered this, he paid back the money to avoid prosecution, officials say.

In 2019, Saaem “falsely denied” embezzling the funds and told FBI agents false statements about the company payroll systems, officials say.

Last year, he admitted to lying about embezzling to avoid being arrested, officials say.

But Saaem made “new false statements” during the interview with agents about acquiring castor beans in 2015, his knowledge that they contained ricin, why he bought them and whether he sought out other poisons, officials say.

Saaem is scheduled to be sentenced in August. He could go to prison up to 20 years.