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Utah woman bought bacteria that causes staph infections, charges state

Janie Lynn Ridd
Janie Lynn Ridd
Salt Lake County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman arrested for allegedly seeking a biological weapon of mass destruction had purchased a bacteria that can cause staph infections, according to charging documents.

And the intended target may have been Ridd’s roommate, for whom she was a caretaker, the charges state.

Janie Lynn Ridd, 50, of Salt Lake City, was charged Friday in 3rd District Court with aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a second-degree felony; attempted possession of a biological agent, a second-degree felony; and attempted aggravated abuse of a vulnerable adult, a third-degree felony

According to charging documents, Ridd “attempted to acquire Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA), which is a strain of Staphylococcus that is resistant to the antibiotic called vancomycin. VRSA can cause illness from skin infections to severe invasive disease which can result in pneumonia and/or septicemia or even death.”

Ridd was able to purchase this bacteria on the dark web, the charges state.

“Between early October 2019 and December 2019, the vendor and the defendant communicated multiple times through an encrypted email service,” the charges state. “The defendant claimed to be a biology teacher at a college preparatory school in Utah and needed the VRSA cultures for a science experiment.”

But investigators noted in charging documents that Ridd “is employed at Indian Training and Education Center, a job assistance/preparation center for Native Americans and persons of Pacific Islander descent in West Valley City, Utah, that offers supplemental income and resources as it relates to the center. In her current employment, the defendant does not operate with any biological substances nor have means to handle such substances.”

Ridd purchased the bacteria for $300 worth of bitcoin, according to charging documents.

She lives with a woman who has had health issues, as well as the roommates’ son, the charges state. Ridd is her roommate’s caregiver, but charging documents note “the defendant and roommate were in a hostile relationship that resulted in the defendant filing for and receiving an ex-parte protective order along with gaining temporary custody of roommate’s minor son. The ex-parte protective order was lifted three days later and custody of roommate’s minor son returned to roommate.

“Records noted roommate and the defendant’s relationship deteriorated over the years due to mutually-claimed power issues and control-type domestic violence dynamics,” the charges continued.

In October, the roommate talked about changing her will so that Ridd — who she has known for 25 years — would not get custody of her son as originally agreed upon, the charges state.

“(Ridd) also admitted to having a life insurance policy on herself and her roommate, with each being the beneficiary for the other,” according to court documents.

The case was investigated by both the State Bureau of Investigations, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. According to the charges, agents — who apparently had intercepted the bacteria — made a delivery of fake bacteria material themselves to the address Ridd had listed. Investigators then watched as Ridd picked up the package, according to charging documents.

When confronted, Ridd claimed the biological agent was purchased to make beer in her basement, the charges state.

“After further consideration, the defendant walked back her statement about using the contents of the package for the purpose of making beer and told your affiant she had ordered some form of ‘staph’ which should be in the package which she picked up earlier,” according to charging documents. “The defendant stated the staph was for experimental purposes.”

When investigators interviewed the roommate, she told them about a conversation she’d had with Ridd “where, after watching a true crime type television show, (Ridd) told the victim that she thought the best way to kill someone and get away with it would be to inject the victim with insulin,” according to charging documents.

Then in June, following that conversation, the roommate said she experienced dangerous blood sugar levels even though she is not a diabetic and does not take insulin, the charges state.

Prosecutors have requested Ridd be held on no bail.

In a statement Thursday following Ridd’s arrest, the Utah Department of Public Safety emphasized “there was never a threat to the general public.”