Rene — Kurtz views his prosecution as 'fanaticism'

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We have posted most of the stories on the case, and this one slipped through the cracks, so I thought it is good to have online.
Kurtz views his prosecution as ‘fanaticism’
News Staff Reporter
Steven J. Kurtz contended Tuesday that “fanaticism” and “neo-McCarthyism” in the federal government are behind efforts to prosecute him for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail.
The University at Buffalo art professor and artist spoke to reporters for the first time about the case after legal arguments were heard by a federal magistrate judge.
While not discussing the specifics of his case, Kurtz said he believes that the charges filed against him last year were part of a Bush administration campaign to keep artists from protesting government policies.
“There’s no doubt that this is a politically motivated case, to my mind,” said Kurtz, 47. “Look back to the tendencies of the government and the Department of Justice. . . . There’s fanaticism in the air.
“I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history. A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.”
After a probe that began when police were called to his home following his wife’s death, Kurtz was indicted last June on felony charges of mail and wire fraud. He is accused of working with a Pittsburgh genetic researcher to obtain bacteria for an art exhibit protesting government policies on genetic engineering.
The indictments were protested by artists and art organizations all over the world. In recent months, artists have raised more than $200,000 to help cover Kurtz’s legal expenses.
Justice Department attorneys deny that there was any political motivation behind the indictments, saying Kurtz and his co-defendant, Robert E. Ferrell, defrauded the company that sold the bacteria by buying it under false pretenses.
“The indictment has nothing to do with artistic expression,” prosecutor William J. Hochul Jr. said Tuesday. “It alleges that biological organisms were obtained through fraud, false statements and misrepresentation. A jury will determine whether the defendant is guilty as charged.”
Hochul and defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. spent 90 minutes debating the merits of the case before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. Cambria asked the judge to dismiss the case. He accused federal prosecutors and agents of trying to turn a contractual disagreement – between Kurtz and the company that sold the bacteria – into a criminal case of bioterrorism.
Schroeder reserved judgment on Cambria’s request for a dismissal of all charges, and also on Cambria’s request to suppress any statements made by Kurtz and any evidence found in his Buffalo home or his office at UB.
Speaking outside federal court, Kurtz said the case against him is a form of government intimidation aimed at artists and educators. He said he believes he was targeted because of his work with the Critical Art Ensemble, a group that uses nontraditional art exhibits to raise questions about government policies.
Under the Bush administration, Kurtz said, “civil action, civil disobedience and free speech are all going to be criminalized. It’s the cultural institution that’s at stake, not me personally.”
Kurtz said he was a “famous artist” long before his arrest. In recent months, he has spoken at art institutions in Germany, Britain and throughout the United States. He said he will soon be speaking in Norway. He said that many of the people who attend the events are upset about his prosecution and want to know how his case is progressing.
“(Artists) are afraid of what might happen to them,” Kurtz said.
The case was investigated by Buffalo police and the Buffalo Joint Terrorism Task Force, composed of members of the FBI and other federal agencies. But no terrorism charges have been filed against Kurtz or Ferrell.
On May 11, 2004, Buffalo police detectives were sent to the Kurtz home on College Street to investigate the death of Kurtz’s wife, Hope, 45. Kurtz had called 911 after noticing that his wife was not breathing.
Agents in the terrorism task force were later called in after a detective noticed that Kurtz had a biology laboratory in the home and tinfoil over some of the windows, Hochul said. Kurtz told police that he used the bacteria – bacillus atrophaeus and serratia marcescens – in some of his art exhibits.
Cambria said the two bacteria are “completely harmless,” but Hochul said Kurtz was well aware that the bacteria could cause harm in some cases, especially to a person with a weakened immune system.
Federal agents engaged in “racial profiling” by getting a search warrant that allowed them to seize any books in the Kurtz home that were written in Arabic, Cambria contended. Hochul said no racial profiling was intended.
Police ultimately determined that there was no foul play involved in Hope Kurtz’s death. No date has yet been set for Kurtz’s federal trial.