Massachusetts biotech boss tells feds ‘Breaking Bad’ inspired quest for ricin

The head of advanced research at a Massachusetts biotechnology company told federal agents he was inspired by the TV show “Breaking Bad” when they began investigating him for allegedly attempting to produce the deadly poison ricin, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston.

Ishtiaq Ali Saaem, 37, who now lives in Allentown, Pa., pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to one count of obstruction of justice on Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns scheduled sentencing for Aug. 18.

Saaem holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and was the director of advanced research at a Massachusetts biotechnology firm. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not say which one or where he lived at the time.

Saaem told federal investigators he became interested in acquiring ricin from castor beans as well as convallatoxin, a poison found in lily of the valley plants, after watching “Breaking Bad” on TV, records say.

On June 24, 2015, Saaem ordered six lily of the valley plants online and paid $321 to order 100 packets of castor beans, each containing eight seeds, according to court records.

At his office on July 2, 2015, he told law enforcement agents that he accidentally bought 100 packets instead of one and that he bought castor beans only for planting at his apartment for decoration, records say. He also made misleading statements about his knowledge of ricin, according to court records.

After he spoke to the agents, Saaem searched the internet for tasteless poisons and rat poison and visited a webpage about poison in apple seeds, records say.

He also visited webpages containing articles titled, “What is the most lethal poison?” and “The five deadly poisons that can be cooked up in a kitchen,” and searched the web for information about poison derived from tomatoes, according to court records.

Saaem could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. He could not be reached for comment.