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Suspect stood to gain from anthrax panic

Biodefense scientist Bruce Ivins could have collected royalties from a new vaccine he had co-invented.

August 02, 2008|David Willman | Times Staff Writer

From 2000 to early 2002, Ivins and two colleagues from USAMRIID helped BioPort resolve problems related to the potency of the vaccine. Because of those and other manufacturing difficulties, production had been suspended. The efforts of Ivins and his colleagues helped BioPort win FDA approval to resume production.

At a Pentagon ceremony on March 14, 2003, Ivins and two colleagues from USAMRIID were bestowed the Decoration of Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest honor given to nonmilitary employees of the Defense Department.

"Awards are nice," Ivins said in accepting the honor. "But the real satisfaction is knowing the vaccine is back on line."

The Times sought earlier this year to obtain annual financial disclosure statements filed by Ivins with his employer. USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said last month that Ivins had filed financial reports exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ivins' apparent suicide and the Justice Department's decision to bring criminal charges against him were first reported Thursday night by The Times. On Friday, Ivins' lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, defended his client and said that Ivins had cooperated fully with the FBI.

"We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have established that at trial," Kemp said, implicitly confirming that Ivins had been about to be formally charged. "The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people. . . . In Dr. Ivins' case, it led to his untimely death."

Kemp did not respond to telephone calls and e-mails for this article.

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david.willman@latimes.com

Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Key dates in the investigation of the anthrax attacks

2001

September-October: Anthrax is mailed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the news media in New York and Florida. By late November, five people are dead and 17 sickened. The victims include postal workers and others who came into contact with the anthrax.

2002

January: The Senate office building where anthrax- tainted letters were sent reopens after three months and fumigation. FBI doubles the reward for helping solve the case to $2.5 million.

June: The FBI is scrutinizing 20 to 30 scientists who might have had the knowledge and opportunity to send the anthrax letters, a U.S. official says.

August: Law enforcement officials and Atty. Gen. John D. Ashcroft call Steven J. Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, a "person of interest" in the investigation.

2003

June: The FBI drains a pond in Frederick, Md., in search of evidence. Frederick is the home of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, one of the nation's main anthrax research centers. Nothing suspicious is found.

August: Hatfill sues Ashcroft and other government officials, accusing them of using him as a scapegoat and demanding that they clear his name.

December: Postal workers begin moving back into Washington's main mail center, more than two years after anthrax-laced letters killed two employees. The Brentwood facility underwent more than $130 million worth of decontamination and renovation.

2004

August: FBI searches homes of Dr. Kenneth M. Berry, who founded a group to train medical staffers to respond to biological disasters, as part of the anthrax investigation. No charges are filed.

July 11: Bio-ONE, a company founded by former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, fumigates the former headquarters of the Sun, the Florida supermarket tabloid that was the first target in the anthrax attacks.

July 13: Hatfill sues the New York Times for defamation, claiming the newspaper ruined his reputation after it published a series of columns pointing to him as the culprit.

2005

March 10: Sensor at Pentagon mail room indicates the possible presence of anthrax.

March 14: Alarm at a second Pentagon mail facility also signals a possible anthrax presence. The post office in Hamilton, N.J., that handled anthrax-laced letters in 2001 reopens. Further testing determines no anthrax in Pentagon mail rooms.

2006

April 11: It is reported that Hatfill's lawyers have questioned at least two journalists and are subpoenaing others, seeking identities of their confidential government sources.

Oct. 23: A federal judge orders the New York Times to disclose a columnist's confidential sources.

2007

Jan. 12: A federal judge dismisses Hatfill's libel lawsuit against the New York Times.

Aug. 13: A federal judge says five journalists must identify the government officials who leaked details about Hatfill to them.

Oct. 2: Hatfill asks a federal judge to hold two journalists in contempt for refusing to identify their sources.

2008

March 7: A federal judge holds a former USA Today reporter in contempt and orders her to pay up to $5,000 a day if she refuses to identify her sources for stories about Hatfill.

March 11: A federal appeals court blocks the fines.

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