[ARENA] Steven Kurtz cleared of all charges...

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Quarta-Feira, 11 de Junho de 2008 - 16:00:30 WEST

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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.

For over a decade, cultural institutions worldwide have hosted Kurtz  
and Critical Art Ensemble’s educational art projects, which use  
common science materials to examine issues surrounding the new  
biotechnologies. In 2004 the Department of Justice alleged that Dr.  
Kurtz had schemed with colleague Dr. Robert Ferrell of the University  
of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to illegally acquire  
two harmless bacteria cultures for use in one of those projects. The  
Justice Department further alleged that the transfer of the material  
from Ferrell to Kurtz broke a material transfer agreement, thus  
constituting mail fraud.

Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum sentence for these charges was  
increased from five years to twenty years in prison.

Dr. Kurtz has been fighting the charges ever since. In October 2007,  
Dr. Ferrell pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor charge after recurring  
bouts of cancer and three strokes suffered since his indictment  
prevented him from continuing the struggle.


Finally vindicated after four years of struggle, Kurtz, asked for a  
statement, responded stoically: “I don’t have a statement, but I do  
have questions. As an innocent man, where do I go to get back the  
four years the Department of Justice stole from me? As a taxpayer,  
where do I go to get back the millions of dollars the FBI and Justice  
Department wasted persecuting me? And as a citizen, what must I do to  
have a Justice Department free of partisan corruption so profound it  
has turned on those it is sworn to protect?”

Said Kurtz’s attorney, Paul Cambria, “I am glad an innocent man has  
been vindicated. Steve Kurtz stared in the face of the federal  
government and a twenty-year prison term and never flinched, because  
he believes in his work and his actions were those of a completely  
innocent man. Clients like him are a blessing, and although I have  
had many important victories, this one stands at the top of the list.”

As coordinator of the CAE Defense Fund, a group organized to support  
Kurtz from the beginning of the case, Lucia Sommer sees the end of  
the prosecution as bittersweet, and like Kurtz, is thoughtful about  
the broader significance of the case: “This ruling is the best  
possible ending to a horrible ordeal—but we are mindful of numerous  
cases still pending, and the grave injustices perpetrated by the Bush  
administration following 9/11. This case was part of a larger  
picture, in which law enforcement was given expanded powers. In this  
instance, the Bush administration was unsuccessful in its attempt to  
erode Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Referring to the international outcry the case provoked, involving  
fundraisers and protests held on four continents, Sommer said, “The  
government has unlimited resources to bring and prosecute these kinds  
of charges, but the accused often don’t have any resources to defend  
themselves. This victory could never have happened without the  
activism of thousands of people. Supporters protested, vocally  
opposed the prosecution, and refused to let it go on in silence. And  
without their efforts at fundraising, Kurtz and Ferrell would not  
have been able to defend themselves from these false accusations.”

Sommer added that the next step for the defense will be to get back  
all of the materials taken by the FBI during its 2004 raid on the  
Kurtz home, including several completed art projects, as well as Dr.  
Kurtz’s lab equipment, computers, books, manuscripts, notes, research  
materials, and personal belongings. The four confiscated art projects  
are the subject of an exhibition entitled SEIZED on view at Hallwalls  
Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, through July 18:


The case originated in May 2004, when Kurtz’s wife Hope died of heart  
failure as the couple was preparing a project about genetically  
modified agriculture for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary  
Art. Police who responded to Steve Kurtz’s 911 call deemed the  
Kurtzes’ art materials suspicious and alerted the FBI. Kurtz  
explained that the materials (legally and easily obtained basic life  
science equipment and two harmless bacteria samples) had already been  
displayed at museums throughout Europe and North America with  
absolutely no risk to the public. However, the following day, Kurtz  
was illegally detained for 22 hours on suspicion of bioterrorism, as  
dozens of agents from the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Homeland  
Security, Department of Defense, ATF, and numerous other law  
enforcement agencies raided his home, seizing his personal and  
professional belongings. After a federal grand jury refused to charge  
Kurtz with bioterrorism, Kurtz and Ferrell were indicted on two  
counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud concerning the  
acquisition of $256 of harmless bacteria for one of Critical Art  
Ensemble’s educational art projects. (Critical Art Ensemble is the  
recipient of numerous awards for its projects, including the  
prestigious 2007 Andy Warhol Foundation Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of  
Artistic Expression Grant, in recognition of twenty years of  
distinguished work: http://www.creative-capital.org/index2.html.)

The Department of Justice brought the charges in spite of the fact  
that the alleged “victims of fraud”—American Type Culture Collection  
and the University of Pittsburgh—never filed any charges or  
complained of any wrongdoing, and the fact that in bringing the  
charges the Department of Justice was acting completely outside its  
own Prosecution Policy Relating to Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud (http:// 

For more information and extensive documentation, including the  
Judge’s dismissal, please visit:


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