Transport of children is probed Accused scientist brought dozens into this country

April 06, 1996|By Scott Higham and Marcia Myers | Scott Higham and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jonathan Bor, Will Englund, Diana K. Sugg and Research Librarian Jean Packard also contributed to this article.

Federal investigators are trying to determine how a Nobel Prize-winning scientist charged with child sexual abuse managed to transport dozens of young children from a string of remote South Pacific islands to his home in Maryland.

Immigration investigators and FBI agents are combing through the records of at least 56 children Dr. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek brought home from Papua New Guinea and Micronesia while working for the National Institutes of Health -- his employer for the past three decades.

Agents are checking to see if Dr. Gajdusek used his professional association with the NIH to bring the children home, and they are investigating whether any more children claim to have been abused by the internationally known pediatrician, virologist and anthropologist.

Dr. Gajdusek is charged with four counts of sexual abuse and perverted acts for allegedly assaulting one boy he brought from Micronesia nine years ago. Wearing a dark-blue prison jumpsuit, he appeared in Frederick County District Court yesterday for a 20-minute bail hearing.

An attorney for the doctor argued that his client was not at risk to flee and the $1 million bail set in the case was too high. The lawyer, Mark J. Hulkower, said his client had been aware he was under investigation by the FBI while traveling in Europe but returned home Thursday anyway.

"He simply didn't have to come back," Mr. Hulkower told District Judge W. Milnor Roberts.

Judge Roberts lowered Dr. Gajdusek's bond to $350,000.

Friends of the doctor, who shared the 1976 Nobel Prize for his research into a neurological disorder similar to "mad cow" disease, say he brought the children here to give them a better life and an education.

His attorney said yesterday that Dr. Gajdusek funded college educations for some of the children from his $118,000-a-year salary at NIH, where he is chief of a major lab at the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke.

"The children may have been brought here based on good intentions, but there appears to have been a breakdown of trust," said Timothy P. McNally, the FBI special agent in charge of Maryland and Delaware. "We are taking a good look to see if there's a broader scope to this case involving other children."

While interviewing children Dr. Gajdusek ferried from overseas, federal agents are pulling visa applications and immigration files to determine how the children entered the United States.

"The INS is conducting a review of the files in this case," said Benedict J. Ferro, district director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Maryland. "Beyond that, I can't comment."

NIH officials declined to say yesterday whether Dr. Gajdusek used the prestigious research center to facilitate the transportation of the children to the United States. They also declined to say if any of the children were sponsored by the NIH to travel to this country.

"All I can say is that this is a law enforcement matter, and NIH is cooperating fully with the responsible authorities," a spokesman said.

Under immigration law, children can enter the country several ways.

If Dr. Gajdusek obtained student visas for the children, he would have needed documents from schools and an affidavit from the NIH showing he was financially able to support the children, State Department officials say.

He also could have obtained visas under a cultural exchange program. Under that program, agencies such as the NIH provide invitations to foreign visitors. It could not be determined last night if the children were admitted under the NIH's auspices.

INS agents say U.S. visas are not required for Micronesians, but travelers from that country are required to produce documents upon entering the United States.

Dr. Gajdusek is charged with sexually abusing a boy from Micronesia on several occasions between 1987 and 1991. According to records and court testimony, FBI agents taped a March 15 phone conversation between Dr. Gajdusek and the alleged victim, now a 23-year-old college student.

During the conversation, Dr. Gajdusek admitted abusing the alleged victim as well as other boys, according to an FBI account of the conversation. The doctor also pleaded with the student to lie to investigators if questioned about the alleged abuse, the FBI affidavit says.

Yesterday, two people Dr. Gajdusek brought from the South Pacific answered the door of his Middletown home in Frederick County, set on three acres in the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains. One of the men, who appeared to be about 20 years old, said Dr. Gajdusek brought him here from Micronesia about 10 years ago.

He said he was never abused by the doctor and was not aware that any one else living in the home had been sexually assaulted. Asked if he was worried about Dr. Gajdusek, the young man said: "He's going to be fine."

The inside of the house was dark, the drapes drawn tight. Tribal masks, carvings and paintings covered many of the walls.

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