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Art Professor Indicted for Mail Fraud

By Buffalo, NY

Eileen Buckley – A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted a University at Buffalo art professor for biological agents found in his Allentown home last month.

But, as the case stands right now, it involves fraud, and not bio-terrorism.

Steven Kurtz and a professor from the University of Pittsburgh face charges of mail and wire fraud.

Robert Ferrell, charged with Kurtz, is head of the Human Genetics Laboratory of the University of Pittsburgh.

U.S. Attorney Michael Battle said they are accused of devising a scheme to obtain two bio-agents through a company registered with the University of Pittsburgh. That company is the American Type Culture Collection.

"Sent by ATCC to the University of Pittsburgh, for which in turn was sent to Kurtz's Buffalo residence, two biological agents which were illegally diverted where serraita marcescens and bacillus atrophaeus, said Battle."

The investigation began last month after Kurtz called emergency crews to his home when his wife died in her sleep.

Buffalo police and fire discovered the suspicious materials, which promoted the investigation.

Buffalo Fire Captain Tom Fitzpatrick said the materials were biological organisms.

"Serraita marcescens is a stimulant for Jack Rabbit fever. It is one of the 200 bios that are infective in man, and less than fifty of the biological agents that you can take and turn into a weapon of mass destruction, said Fitzpatrick."

But U.S. Attorney Battle stressed that the indictment only charges the men with fraud - not bio-terrorism.

"The current charges do not relate to allegations of bio-terrorism, nor is this a case which seeks to stifle artistic expression, said Battle."

But questions remain unanswered as to the exact purpose of those materials.

According to the indictment, a person who testified before the grand jury said Ferrell indicated that Kurtz asked for "assistance in acquiring" the bio-agents to be used in showing the "spread of bacteria in the environment."

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Kurtz illegally obtained those materials.

"As the indictment reports, there was, in fact, a great deal of evidence that Mr. Kurtz was up to something," said Hochul. "Specifically, if you look at the indictment, he was in possession of two biological agents that he was not entitled to have."

Kurtz is co-founder of the Critical Art Ensemble. He maintains that the materials are used for art exhibits. Kurtz is scheduled to appear in federal court on the charges July 8.