The grand jury investigation into "bioterror artist" Steve Kurtz (see earlier Hit and Run entry here for background) has ended with indictments for…mail fraud. Excerpts from his defense fund press release:
Professor Steve Kurtz was charged today by a federal grand jury in Buffalo, New York–not with bioterrorism, as listed on the Joint Terrorism Task Force's original search warrant and subpoenas, but with "petty larceny."…
Also indicted was Robert Ferrell, head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health. The charges concern technicalities of how Ferrell helped Kurtz to obtain $256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of Kurtz's art projects.
This is a far cry from the bioterrorism charges originally sought by the District Attorney. To make a "federal case" out of such minor allegations, the District Attorney will have the burden of proving criminal intent.
"There was very obviously no criminal intent," said Kurtz attorney [Paul] Cambria. "The intent was to educate and enlighten." Cambria suggested that the pursuit of such a minor case at the federal level was profoundly absurd…..
The U.S. District Attorney attempted to cast the issue as one of public health and safety in a public press conference called without the knowledge of either defendant's lawyers, thus eliminating the chance of rebuttal. During the conference, parts of which were broadcast on local Buffalo news channels, U.S. Attorney William Hochul and U.S. District Attorney Michael Battle repeatedly alluded to "dangerous" and "bio-hazardous material," even though the charges have nothing to do with such issues, and scientists universally regard the materials in question as safe.