Home searched in plague investigation

Saturday, January 18, 2003

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Federal agents searched the home of a university professor charged with lying when he claimed that 30 vials of plague bacteria were missing from his laboratory.

The agents late Friday removed computers and computer disks belonging to Dr. Thomas C. Butler, his wife and two children, said the professor's attorney, Floyd Holder.

According to the search warrant, the agents also were looking for financial records, records concerning Butler's travel since 2001 and documents "or other evidence of importation, transportation, shipment and/or possession of biological and chemical" agents.

"I think we would probably call it a fishing expedition," Holder said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Baker declined to comment.

Butler, 61, a tenured professor at Texas Tech University, first said the plague was missing but later admitted he had accidentally destroyed the vials, according to court documents filed by the FBI.

He was arrested Wednesday and remained jailed without bond Friday on a a charge of making a false statement to a federal agent. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is convicted.

Holder has said his client intends to plead innocent.

The university has placed Butler on paid leave, changed the locks on his laboratory, blocked him from computer access and barred him from campus.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: