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Doctor Is Sentenced Over Bioterror Scare

The former professor at Texas Tech had reported that 30 vials of plague bacteria were missing.

March 11, 2004|From Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas — A former Texas Tech University professor who started a bioterrorism scare when he reported plague bacteria missing last year was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison.

Dr. Thomas C. Butler, 62, was also fined $15,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $38,000. He had agreed to retire from the school and surrender his medical license.

Butler showed no reaction when the sentence was read. He remains free on bond but must report to federal authorities April 14.

He had faced up to 240 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for convictions stemming from an investigation after he reported in January 2003 that 30 vials of the bacteria were missing from his lab.

He later said he had accidentally destroyed the samples, but during his trial he testified that he had no clear memory of destroying them and that they could have been destroyed during his cleanup of an accident.

Butler's lawyers had sought probation.

In January, after his conviction, Butler agreed to pay $250,000 to the school and retire. Last month, he voluntarily surrendered his medical license to the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

In December, a jury found Butler guilty of mislabeling a FedEx package that contained plague samples he sent to Tanzania, and of their unauthorized export to the African country.

The jury also found Butler guilty of theft, embezzlement, fraud, and mail and wire fraud pertaining to shadow contracts prosecutors claimed he had illegally negotiated while at Texas Tech. The settlement pertained to those charges.

He was acquitted of the most serious charges of smuggling and illegally transporting the potentially deadly germ and of lying to federal agents about the missing vials.

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