A La Crescenta man was sentenced Monday to 3 1/2 years behind bars for attempting to obtain deadly biological toxins via the dark web and ship the poisons through the mail to a commercial building in downtown Los Angeles.
Steve S. Kim, 42, now claims he intended to use ricin to commit suicide, but there are indications he may have planned to murder his wife or another person with the undetectable toxin, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Before Kim was aware of the FBI’s investigation, “he told an online associate that he intended to use the ricin to kill another person, whom he described as a 110-pound person,” prosecutors wrote in a memorandum filed with the court.
“The evidence uncovered showed that defendant’s wife weighed approximately 110 pounds and had severe underlying health issues and that defendant and his wife were going through a difficult period in their relationship,” according to the document.
Kim’s federal public defense attorney declined comment.
Prosecutors recommended a federal prison sentence of more than seven years. Kim’s sentencing position was filed under seal.
“There is no evidence other than his own self-serving statements post-arrest that he intended to kill himself,” federal prosecutors wrote. “Moreover, defendant was lucid, logical, and knew what he was doing when he accessed the dark web multiple times to attempt to purchase dangerous toxins. Two psychological reports have been prepared in this matter and both conclude that defendant was well aware that he was engaging in very dangerous and illegal crimes, and did so without regard to the safety of the community.”
Kim pleaded guilty last year before U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter to one count of violating a federal criminal statute called prohibition with respect to biological weapons.
Over a two-month period late in 2018, Kim attempted to obtain ricin and cyanide from what he thought was an online seller but in fact was an undercover FBI operative.
In a sting operation, the FBI concealed a substance purported to be ricin inside another product, and the package was delivered to Kim’s work address in Los Angeles. That evening, Kim took the parcel home, accessed the fake ricin, and was immediately placed under arrest.
“Putting aside for the moment defendant’s intended use of the toxins once he received them, his attempts to procure deadly biological toxins put many at risk,” according to prosecutors. “One of the toxins that the defendant attempted to obtain and send through the mail was cyanide, a substance which, if inhaled, can cause seizures, apnea, and cardiac arrest, with death following in a matter of seconds. Much more dangerously, however, defendant intended to send ricin through the mail.”
Inhaled ricin causes fever, chest tightness, cough and severe respiratory problems, including fluid buildup in the lungs. Ingested ricin causes intestinal bleeding and organ damage. The poison, which is found naturally in the castor bean shrub, can kill within three days of exposure, and even a few grains may be fatal. No antidote exists.
Kim agreed to pay 320 Euros — about $350 — in bitcoin for the toxin. In his plea agreement, Kim admitted that he did not intend to use the toxin for any lawful purpose, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The idea of intentionally using a biological agent to do harm shocks the conscience,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. “This case demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to holding accountable actors who use or attempt to use weapons of mass destruction to carry out acts of terrorism or violence.”
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