One man's just lost his wife while the other's so ill he's just had to stand down from his job. The perfect time to be hounded by the Feds, then arraigned on charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
And over what?
Bacteria of limited financial value that are routinely used on undergraduate courses and which "likely could easily be recovered from the clothing of many students", according to Prof Joe Cummins.
But then again, Kurtz did come up with some extravagant ideas for resisting GMOs.
Prof to be arraigned today
Artist Steven Kurtz fears further charges on bioterrorism because of his group's writings
By John Dudley Miller
The Scientist, 8 July 2004
Steven Kurtz, the art professor indicted for fraud last week because he received bacteria from a scientist to use in a performance art exhibit about biotechnology, will be arraigned today (July 8) in federal court in Buffalo. He faces four counts of wire and mail fraud, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Robert Ferrell, the genetics professor who supplied him the bacteria, will not appear in court today, because he is recovering from surgery. He will be arraigned on the same counts later, on a date yet to be determined.
The indictments allege that the two professors defrauded Pitt because Ferrell used university funds to pay for the two kinds of bacteria he gave Kurtz, an associate professor of art at the Buffalo campus of the State University of New York. They also defrauded the biological supply house where Ferrell bought the bacteria, the charges allege, because a materials transfer agreement required him to keep the materials in his own lab and to use them only for research. Each man's lawyer has told The Scientist that his client will plead not guilty.
On July 2, the University of Pittsburgh announced that Ferrell was stepping down as chair of the Human Genetics Department in Pitt's School of Public Health because of "health considerations and for no other reason." In an E-mail to The Scientist the same day, Ferrell wrote, "I have had to step down in the past because of medical reasons, and I had made the decision to step down again while I deal with a potentially serious medical condition prior to any of the talk of indictment."
Kurtz remains worried that the Justice Department might indict him on further charges later, according to a Chicago artist colleague, Claire Pentecost. If the Justice Department does so, it might cite some of the Critical Arts Ensemble's most controversial writings about resisting the spread of genetically modified (GM) food crops, found in a book chapter titled "Fuzzy biological sabotage."
The authors define such sabotage as efforts at the border of legality, illegality, and unregulated actions to convince companies that market GM seeds to stop doing so. Although they do not advocate physical harm to any person, they suggest releasing large numbers of mutant flies near GM laboratories to create a nuisance that will slow down the work. The authors also describe how to interfere with sample test sites for GM food crops, for instance, by releasing so many rodents to eat the plants that scientists will realize their test sites have been contaminated and will have to start over, wasting time and money.
In addition, the authors suggest feeding the pesticide RoundUp to pests so that any survivors will breed swarms of resistant offspring, treating RoundUp-resistant plants with a chemical that inhibits the enzyme that allows them to tolerate the product, and binding a dye to that enzyme to turn plants an ugly color.
But Kurtz's lawyer, Paul Cambria, told The Scientist by E-mail that "nothing in that article has anything to do with" the charges against Kurtz. "In that work, he made it clear that nothing illegal should be done by anyone in order to make a point," Cambria said.
Edward Richards, a professor of law at Louisiana State University with expertise in bioterrorism and public health, said the writings are not illegal. "They can't indict him over what he wrote," he said. "The First Amendment is still alive and well."
But if Kurtz or others should act on these ideas, they may be breaking the law. "The whole fuzzy sabotage stuff is just, from a legal perspective, it's just stupid," Edwards told The Scientist. "Creating a nuisance is illegal," but the authors don't realize that, Edwards said.
In addition, Edwards says that it is possible that Kurtz and Ferrell violated some federal bioterrorism provision when they defrauded the supplier, because the post-9/11 laws are so much broader than before. However, because those laws haven't been used much so far, "nobody" is an expert on them, he said, so it's difficult to determine whether the professors broke one of them.
Links for this article
J.D. Miller, "Genetics, art profs indicted," The Scientist, July 1, 2004.
Robert E. Ferrell
J.D. Miller, "Bioterror art case ongoing," The Scientist, June 25, 2004.
American Type Culture Collection Material Transfer Agreement
Critical Art Ensemble Book Projects
Critical Art Ensemble, "Fuzzy biological sabotage," in Molecular Invasion,
Autonomedia, 2002, pp. 96-115.
Paul J. Cambria, Jr.
Edward P. Richards
The US Biological Weapons Anti-terrorism Act of 1989