Government Pressure forces Scientist's Plea in the bizarre ongoing Art-Science-"Bioterrorism" case

October 11, 2007

Scientist’s Wife and Daughter Comment on Case

Buffalo, NY - Today in Federal District Court, Dr. Robert Ferrell, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, under tremendous pressure, pled guilty to lesser charges rather than facing a prolonged trial for federal charges of “mail fraud” and “wire fraud” in a surreal post-PATRIOT Act legal case that has attracted worldwide attention.

“From the beginning, this has been a persecution, not a prosecution. Although I have not seen the final agreement, the initial versions contained incorrect and irrelevant information,” said Dr. Dianne Raeke Ferrell, Dr. Ferrell’s wife and an Associate Professor of Special Education and Clinical Services at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “Bob is a 27 year survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which has reoccurred numerous times. He has also had malignant melanoma. Since this whole nightmare began, Bob has had two minor strokes and a major stroke which required months of rehabilitation.”

Dr. Ferrell added that her husband was indicted just as he was preparing to undergo a painful and dangerous autologous stem cell transplant, the second in 7 years.

The Ferrells’ daughter, Gentry Chandler Ferrell, added: “Our family has struggled with an intense uncertainty about physical, emotional and financial health for a long time. Agreeing to a plea deal is a small way for dad to try to eliminate one of those uncertainties and hold on a little longer to the career he worked so hard to develop… Sadly, while institutions merely are tarnished from needless litigation, individuals are torn apart. I remain unable to wrap my mind around the absurdity of the government’s pursuit of this case and I am saddened that it has been dragged out to the point where my dad opted to settle from pure exhaustion.” (read Gentry Ferrell’s full statement)

Dr. Ferrell’s colleague Dr. Steven Kurtz, founder of the internationally acclaimed art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble, was illegally detained and accused of “bioterrorism” by the U.S. government in 2004 stemming from his acquisition from Dr. Ferrell of harmless bacteria used in several of Critical Art Ensemble’s educational art projects. After a costly investigation lasting several months and failing to provide any evidence of “bioterrorism,” the Department of Justice instead brought charges of “mail fraud” and “wire fraud” against Kurtz and Ferrell. Under the
USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum penalty for these charges has increased from 5 years to 20. (For more information about the case, please see “Background to the Case” below or the CAE Defense Fund site)


The government is vigorously attempting to prosecute two defendants in a case where no one has been injured, and no one has been defrauded. The materials found in Dr. Kurtz’s house were obtained legally and used safely by the artist. After three and a half years of investigation and prosecution, the case still revolves around $256 worth of common science research materials that were used in art works by a highly visible and respected group of artists. These art works were commissioned and hosted by cultural institutions worldwide where they had been safely displayed in museums and galleries with absolutely no risk to the public.

The Government has consistently framed this case as an issue of public safety, but the materials used by Critical Art Ensemble are widely available, can be purchased by anyone from High School science supply catalogues, and are regularly mailed.


“The government’s prosecution is an ill-conceived and misguided attack on the scientific and artistic communities,” said Dr. Richard Gronostajski, Professor of Biochemistry at SUNY Buffalo, where Professor Kurtz also teaches. “It could have a chilling effect on future scientific research collaborations, and harm teaching efforts and interactions between scientists, educators and artists.”

“It’s deeply alarming that the government could pressure someone of Dr. Ferrell’s stature into agreeing to something like this. The case threatens all Americans’ Constitutionally guaranteed right to question the actions of their government,” said Igor Vamos, Professor of Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

....the full press release continues here

For more information about the case, including extensive documentation, please visit

Claire Pentecost: 773-383-9771
Gregory Sholette: 212-865-3076
Edmund Cardoni: 716-854-1694
Igor Vamos: 917-209-3282
Lucia Sommer: 716-359-3061
Dianne Raeke Ferrell: 412-352-2704


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