Artist Dr. Steven Kurtz cleared of all charges

11 June 2008

This was the most bat shit crazy episode in the whole Bush Gestapo Era. Charges are finally dropped, but as Kurtz states, there is no re-compensation for him.

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 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:
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

June 11, 2008

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:

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

  1. 1 JenniferM says...


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