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Man Charged with Storing Deadly Cyanide in Chicago Mass Transit System

by Mike Robinson, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) - A man charged with storing deadly powdered cyanide in part of Chicago's downtown subway system had fled charges of vandalizing Wisconsin utility systems, authorities said.

Joseph Konopka, 25, formerly of De Pere, Wis., was charged Monday with possession of a chemical weapon after federal agents found sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide in a Chicago Transit Authority storage room underneath the city's downtown Loop district.

Officials said they didn't want to speculate about why Konopka allegedly had the chemicals.

"I'm not a psychologist," Chicago police Superintendent Terry Hillard said. He said the chemicals had posed "no immediate danger" to riders.

Konopka was carrying a vial containing 1 gram of sodium cynanide-sodium carbonate when he was arrested Saturday night, the FBI said. About 4 ounces of potassium cyanide and about nine-tenths of a pound of sodium cyanide were discovered in the passageway. The FBI said the chemicals could kill people if ingested or converted to gas.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward A. Bobrick ordered Konopka held pending a hearing Wednesday. It wasn't immediately known if Konopka had a lawyer.

The FBI said Konopka claimed to be the leader of a Wisconsin group of vandals known as the "Realm of Chaos" that took "personal entertainment out of observing the consequences of the property damage." He was wanted on charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution in Wisconsin after failing to appear on charges in Door County alleging vandalism against utility systems, the FBI said.

"What we're looking at is someone who styles himself as an anarchist, as a domestic terrorist, who tries to live up to his computer moniker, which is Dr. Chaos," Door County District Attorney Tim Funnell said.

Konopka was being sought on more than a dozen warrants. Last year, he appeared in court charged with damaging an electrical switch that caused brownouts in the small town of Algoma, Wis. He also was charged by Shawano County authorities with opening a valve at a natural gas facility and trying to ignite the escaping gas with a chemical compound.

He was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to 10 months in jail and three years probation for trying to break into cars, crashing his car into garages and tearing down mailboxes and lampposts in a Wisconsin suburb.

In Chicago, Konopka was unemployed and had been living in the subway system for several weeks, authorities said.

University of Illinois-Chicago police arrested Konopka and a juvenile Saturday night on suspicion of trespassing, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court. They were found in a steam tunnel under the university's education building, the FBI said.

University police had staked out the tunnel because of a rash of burglaries on campus in recent weeks.

The juvenile told federal agents that Konopka had taken over an area within a CTA underground passageway to store chemicals, the FBI said. Konopka admitted he had keys to various CTA substations, the FBI said.

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