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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

San Fran PR Man Pleads Guilty to Poison Charge

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A former San Francisco political consultant and publicist accused of possessing weaponized toxins and bomb-making materials pleaded guilty to two lesser charges moments before he was set to go to trial on Tuesday.

Ryan Kelly Chamberlain II, who once worked on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's San Francisco mayoral campaign, admitted to possessing the biological toxin abrin and a .22 caliber Derringer pistol with the serial number removed.

He faces up to 10 years in prison - five years for each of the two counts to which he pleaded guilty on Tuesday.

Chamberlain, 44, has been in jail since his arrest in June 2014. The FBI hunted him for three days after weeks of surveillance uncovered records of poisons purchased on the dark Web and shipped to his San Francisco apartment. An apparent suicide note surfaced online the day after he was arrested.

This past week, U.S. District Judge Vincent Chhabria questioned the credibility of the government's expert witness on abrin's lethality, saying it was "apparent that the U.S. Attorney's Office never had any reliable basis for asserting that the FBI recovered between 1,000 and 2,000 lethal doses of abrin from Chamberlain's apartment."

He added, "Admittedly, given the erroneous allegation by the U.S. Attorney's Office that the FBI recovered between 1,000 and 2,000 lethal doses of abrin from Chamberlain's apartment, there is reason to wonder if it will be able to live up to its other promises about the state of the evidence."

Chhabria said that if the case proceeded to trial, a jury would have to find that Chamberlain's possession of abrin included a "potential for severe harm to many people."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Kearney said the government has recommended a sentence but declined to give specifics on the plea agreement, which has not yet been made public.

Chamberlain's federal public defenders Elizabeth Falk refused to talk after the hearing, saying, "We don't comment on pending cases."

Falk told Chhabria she is shooting for an April sentencing date.

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