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Miami Airport Closed for Hours Amid Bioterrorism Fears

Authorities closed much of Miami International Airport and nearby hotels for hours last week when a man attempting to carry a suspicious container through customs was linked to a 2003 investigation over his handling of plague samples, the Associated press reported (see GSN, May 5, 2006).

Former Texas Tech University professor Thomas Butler, 70, caught the attention of a Transportation Security Administration officer at 9 p.m. Thursday at a customs checkpoint. The inspector checked a database and found that Butler had been charged previously with plague-related crimes.

The airport was evacuated and Butler was taken into custody for a short period. He provided full cooperation and faces no charges in the incident, according to a law enforcement source. An analysis of the container determined it contained no dangerous material, a high-level police official said.

Butler in January 2003 reported vials of plague bacteria stolen from his laboratory. Federal agents were called in to search, but stopped looking when Butler submitted a written statement in which he acknowledged making a “misjudgment” by not telling his supervisor the vials were “accidentally destroyed.”

Butler was convicted of fraudulently sending plague samples to Tanzania in an inaccurately marked package, although charges he had smuggled and illegally transferred the samples were dropped. He also received a two-year prison sentence for fraud and theft relating to contracts with pharmaceutical firms (Kay/Andersen, Associated Press/North Jersey Record, Sept. 4).

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