Federal agents seized bank statements and checkbooks, along with personal computers and medicines, when they searched the homes of three Chester, Pa., city officials this week for traces of anthrax, their attorney said yesterday.
Anthony F. List, who represents Chester Health Commissioner Irshad Shaikh, his brother, Masood, and Chester city accountant Asif Kazi, said his clients also were questioned about their knowledge of the distribution or acquisition of anthrax, a bacteria that has killed four persons in New York, Washington and Florida.
“Their answers were clear and unequivocal; they have no knowledge,” Mr. List said in an interview.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen FBI agents backed by a hazardous-materials squad raided two houses in Chester where the three men live. Agents spent seven hours at both places, later removing several green plastic trash bags from the houses to vans and other FBI vehicles outside. The hazardous-materials squad set up decontamination tents behind the houses.
Chester is located about 50 miles from Hamilton Township, N.J., the site of a post office from where anthrax-laced letters are believed to have been mailed. Those letters went through a postal facility in Trenton, N.J., and then to the NBC News office in New York and the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in Washington. Of the four who have died, two are postal workers in Washington who investigators believe were exposed to the Daschle letter.
In the raid on Mr. Kazi’s house, FBI agents also seized a prescription for Cipro from his wife, Palwasha Jalawam, who came to the United States 20 years ago from Afghan-istan. Cipro is an antibiotic that can be used to treat anthrax. She told the agents that she was taking the drug to treat endometriosis, an immune system deficiency in women.
But an authority on the illness said Thursday there would be no reason for anyone to take an antibiotic for endometriosis, which is believed to be hereditary.
Mary Lou Ballweg, president and executive director of the Endometriosis Association, said endometriosis is not viral nor bacterial, and a person “would never use an antibiotic for that.”
Asked about Ms. Ballweg’s comment, Mr. List said the drug had been “clearly intended to treat endometriosis.”
Mr. Kazi had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury yesterday, but Mr. List arranged to have all the three men interviewed by the FBI at its Delaware County office. The attorney said the agents took handwriting samples and fingerprints from his clients.
“The FBI is being as thorough as I would expect them to be,” he said. The information that led to Tuesday’s search of the men’s residences is still unknown.
“Obviously, the FBI believes and a judge who signed the search warrant believed there was enough evidence to search,” Mr. List said. “We don’t know where that information came from yet. Time will tell who gave that information to the bureau.”
The three men, who lived in Pakistan before they came to the United States, are now scheduled to appear before a grand jury on Dec. 20.
FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi has declined to comment on why the houses were raided or what, if anything, agents were looking for or later removed from the two houses.
She said an FBI affidavit used to obtain the search warrants was sealed by the court.
No charges have been filed.
Dr. Shaikh has been the Chester health commissioner since 1994; Masood Shaikh has headed the city’s lead-abatement program since 1998; and Mr. Kazi became the city’s accountant in 1999. Mr. Kazi is a U.S. citizen, while Dr. Shaikh said he has a resident green card and his brother has a work visa.