The case in a nutshell, an internationally renowned Artist was about to put on a display to educate the public about genetically modified food here in
the US in May 2004 (already shown in Europe); just before the show his previously healthy wife suddenly died of heart failure. His exhibit did not
make the show. He and the Genetics Professor that supplied the harmless bacteria for the show were initially charged with bioterrorism (20 year
sentence). When it became clear this was not the case, the prosecutors charged the men with mail and wire fraud (20 year sentence) for something that
at the most could have been a breech of civil contract law (and hence not a crime), which neither the company nor the university involved pursued. Why
in the world would the Government continue with the prosecution of a man who just lost his wife and a well respected Scientist battling non-Hodgkin's
Because of this case, many of the manufacturers that formerly supplied amateurs and science hobbyists no longer will for fear of litigation. The case
therefore has threatened to end independent research and seriously damage the public's ability to critique corporations, which will exercise even
more exclusive control of scientific knowledge.
Dr. Steven Kurtz is a Professor of Art at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member, with his late wife, Hope, of the internationally acclaimed art and
theater collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). Over the past decade cultural institutions worldwide have hosted CAE’s participatory theater
projects that help the general public understand biotechnology and the many issues surrounding it. In May 2004 the Kurtzes were preparing to present
Free Range Grain, a project examining GM agriculture, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), when Hope Kurtz died of heart
failure. Emergency personnel who responded to Kurtz's 911 call deemed the couple's art suspicious, and called the FBI. The art materials consisted
of several petri dishes containing three harmless bacteria cultures, and a mobile lab to test food labeled “organic” for the presence of
genetically modified ingredients. As Kurtz explained, these materials had been safely displayed in museums and galleries throughout Europe and North
America with absolutely no risk to the public.The New York State Commissioner of Public Health determined that the materials seized by the FBI pose no
public safety risk. All of the materials are legal and commonly used for scientific education and research activities in universities and high
schools, and are universally regarded by scientists as safe. Nevertheless,Steve Kurtz and Robert Ferrell, Professor of Genetics at the University of
Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, faced a possible 20 years in prison in what has become increasingly clear is a politically motivated
attempt to silence an artist and scientist whose work is critical of government policy. Initially they were charged with "bioterrorism" .
Professor Steve Kurtz was charged today by a federal grand jury in Buffalo, New York--not with bioterrorism, as listed on the Joint Terrorism Task
Force's original search warrant and subpoenas, but with "petty larceny," in the words of Kurtz attorney Paul Cambria. Also indicted was Robert
Ferrell, head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health. The charges concern technicalities of how
Ferrell helped Kurtz to obtain $256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of Kurtz's art projects.
The laws under which the indictments were obtained--Title 18, United States Code, sections 1341 and 1343, covering mail and wire fraud--are normally
used against those defrauding others of money or property, as in telemarketing schemes. The Patriot Act, upped the sentence for mail and wire fraud
from 5 -20 years.
This is a far cry from the bioterrorism charges originally sought by the District Attorney. To make a "federal case" out of such minor allegations,
the District Attorney will have the burden of proving criminal intent.
"There was very obviously no criminal intent," said Kurtz attorney Cambria. "The intent was to educate and enlighten." Cambria suggested that the
pursuit of such a minor case at the federal level was profoundly absurd. "If the University of Pittsburgh feels that there was a contract breach,
then their remedy is to sue Steve for $256 in a civil court."
February 14, 2008,Buffalo, NY -- Dr. Steven Kurtz's friend and former co-defendant Dr. Robert Ferrell was sentenced in federal district court on
Dr. Ferrell was fined $500 and was given one year of "unsupervised release," meaning he will not have to report to federal probation officers. He
pleaded “guilty” last October to a misdemeanor due to severe health problems.
After reading what he called numerous "powerful" and "very strong" letters of support from colleagues and the Chancellor of the University of
Pittsburgh, Judge Richard Arcara said he gave Ferrell "the most lenient sentence I could give."
Ferrell could have been fined $5,000 and sentenced to six months in jail.
Dr. Dianne Raeke Ferrell said the prosecution has been “extremely stressful” for her husband. Dr. Robert Ferrell has had several recurrences of
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma since being diagnosed in 1980, and has had three strokes since he and Kurtz were indicted on federal "mail fraud" charges in
June 11, 2008 ARTIST CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES IN PRECEDENT-SETTING CASE
Department of Justice Fails to Appeal Dismissal Kurtz Speaks about Four-Year Ordeal
Buffalo, NY--Dr. Steven Kurtz, a Professor of Visual Studies at SUNY at Buffalo and cofounder of the award-winning art and theater group Critical Art
Ensemble, has been cleared of all charges of mail and wire fraud. On April 21, Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara dismissed the government's entire
indictment against Dr. Kurtz as "insufficient on its face." This means that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which the judge must
accept as "fact") were true, they would not constitute a crime. The US Department of Justice had thirty days from the date of the ruling to appeal.
No action has been taken in this time period, thus stopping any appeal of the dismissal. According to Margaret McFarland, a spokeswoman for US
Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, the DoJ will not appeal Arcara's ruling and will not seek any new charges against Kurtz.
You can watch the movie about this on Netflix "Strange Culture"
or here's a u tube link from Pipebomb24875 post earlier in the year
Here's the official Critical Art Ensemble web page I used to summarize the case.