Ryan Chamberlain pleads guilty to two serious charges

A former political consultant pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday to two counts of illegally possessing a biological toxin and a gun with its serial number removed.

Ryan Chamberlain, 44, of San Francisco, entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria and will be sentenced by Chhabria on April 12.

The toxin he admitted possessing was abrin, a poison made from the seeds of the rosary pea plant, and the gun was a .22-caliber Derringer pistol, according to court documents.

As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors dropped four other counts in which Chamberlain was accused of possessing a homemade bomb and possessing the abrin and two other toxins, ricin and sodium cyanide, for use as biological and chemical weapons.

The materials were allegedly found in Chamberlain’s Nob Hill apartment in 2014.

Chamberlain had been due to go on trial in Chhabria’s court today.

But the trial was cancelled after prosecution and defense attorneys told Chhabria last week they had reached a plea agreement.

Chamberlain, wearing orange jail clothing, told Chhabria that he understood the charges he was pleading guilty to and was voluntarily and knowingly giving up his right to a trial.

Chamberlain has been in custody since his arrest by the FBI after a three-day manhunt in 2014.

The two counts carry a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison. The plea agreement contains a recommended sentence, which was not disclosed during the court hearing. The judge is not bound by the recommendation, but if he rejects the recommended sentence, Chamberlain is entitled to withdraw the guilty plea and go to trial.

Prosecution and defense attorneys declined to comment outside of court.

The investigation of Chamberlain began after an FBI probe of sales of toxins on the Internet indicated that Chamberlain allegedly sought to buy abrin on a “dark web” anonymous site called Black Market Reloaded, according to a May 30, 2014, search warrant application by FBI agent Michael Eldridge.

A search of Chamberlain’s apartment on May 31 turned up materials that prosecutors claimed were a homemade bomb. After a short interview with Eldridge that day, Chamberlain drove off at “a high rate of speed,” according to court documents.

On June 1, the FBI announced Chamberlain was wanted on suspicion of possessing explosives and should have been considered armed and dangerous, and on June 2 Chamberlain posted what appeared to be a suicide note on social media detailing his struggles with depression and troubles with family and work.

He was arrested that evening near Crissy Field in San Francisco.

Chamberlain was initially charged with possessing the pistol and the alleged bomb, but the charges were revised and expanded several times as authorities tested the substances found in his apartment.

In a third superseding indictment issued by a federal grand jury on Oct. 22, Chamberlain was accused with a total of six counts.

Those charges included the two counts of illegal possession of abrin and a gun, to which he pleaded guilty today.

The other four counts, now dropped by prosecutors, were possession of an unregistered destructive device, namely, the alleged bomb; possession of abrin for use as a biological weapon; possession of ricin for use as a biological weapon; and possession of a chemical weapon, namely sodium cyanide.

If the now-cancelled trial had taken place, prosecutors would have been allowed under a Feb. 2 pretrial ruling by Chhabria to introduce evidence that Chamberlain allegedly bought abrin from a vendor on the Black Market Reloaded website in December 2013.

In other pretrial filings and arguments, defense attorneys contended there was no proof the alleged bomb would have worked.