Ex-Fort Detrick scientist is put on leave from new job at LSU

Hatfill's Md. apartment searched again Thursday in FBI anthrax probe

August 03, 2002|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, whose Frederick apartment was searched again Thursday in the FBI's anthrax investigation, was placed on leave yesterday from his new $150,000-a-year job at Louisiana State University.

In a statement released yesterday, LSU said that "in view of current circumstances," the university has placed Hatfill on "paid administrative leave" for 30 days. "His status will be reevaluated at the end of that period."

Hatfill, 48, was hired July 1 as associate director of the university's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, which is supported by a Department of Justice grant to train emergency personnel to handle bioterrorist attacks.

Hatfill has been teaching classes that include FBI agents even as other agents appear to be intensifying their scrutiny of him as a potential suspect in last fall's anthrax mailings, which killed five people. He has vehemently denied any involvement in the attacks.

Hatfill, who worked at the Army's biodefense research center at Fort Detrick from 1997 to 1999, is a physician and Ph.D. biologist who has lectured widely on the bioterrorist threat. He is among a few dozen scientists whose expertise and access to laboratory supplies of the Ames strain of anthrax led the FBI to interview and polygraph him.

Hatfill's boss at LSU, Stephen L. Guillot Jr., said two weeks ago that FBI officials assured him after a search June 25 that Hatfill was "not a suspect and was not on any list" of possible suspects. But on Thursday, a team of FBI agents and postal inspectors returned to the scientist's apartment near Fort Detrick with a search warrant and spent nine hours examining the apartment and large trash bins outside.

Meanwhile yesterday, an attorney for Hatfill protested the circumstances of Thursday's search to federal prosecutors, saying FBI agents conducted the search without notice after ignoring Hatfill's promise of continuing cooperation.

In a letter to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth C. Kohl, who is overseeing the case, lawyer Victor M. Glasberg questioned whether "improper decisions" are being made in the continuing scrutiny of Hatfill. Glasberg asserted that the FBI failed to respond to his offer to make Hatfill available for more interviews or to facilitate searches by going ahead with the search, which drew intensive media coverage.

Glasberg released his letter to Kohl yesterday along with a statement saying he has been "working with Dr. Hatfill on how to address a flurry of defamatory publicity about him which has appeared in the press, on TV and on the Internet." He said that "on advice of counsel, Dr. Hatfill will not be speaking with the press."

Also yesterday, Hatfill retained another lawyer, who practices criminal law, to represent him. The lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro of Alexandria, Va., has handled a number of high-profile cases and represents Brian P. Regan, a retired Air Force master sergeant accused of trying to sell U.S. secrets to Iraq, Libya and China.

Shapiro contacted prosecutors yesterday to say he represents Hatfill, said people familiar with the case. Reached last night, Shapiro said, "I'm not going to comment right now."

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