- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

LUBBOCK, Texas, Jan. 21 (UPI) — A Texas Tech researcher who allegedly lied to the FBI about missing bubonic plague bacteria was freed on $100,000 bond Tuesday.

Dr. Thomas C. Butler, 61, was released after federal prosecutors were satisfied that he was not a threat to public safety or a flight risk. He had been jailed since Wednesday on a charge of making a false statement to an FBI agent.

Butler reported that 30 vials containing the bacteria were missing from his lab when he knew they had been destroyed, federal agents said. The report sparked national security concerns although the bacteria can be readily treated with antibiotics.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Baker withdrew the request for Butler's detention.

"The United States is satisfied that the conditions set satisfy the concerns of a danger to the community and the threat of flight risk," he said.

Butler must stay away from Texas Tech, surrender his passport, observe a curfew, submit to electronic monitoring and put up his home as collateral on his bond. He also agreed not to contact any potential witnesses in the case.

Floyd Holder, Butler's attorney, said he could live with the conditions. He said last week his client is innocent and looking forward to his day in court.

Butler refused to make any comment to reporters after the hearing.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Federal agents executed a search warrant at Butler's home Friday.

Butler has been involved in plague research for more than 25 years and is internationally recognized in the field. His research with the bubonic plague bacteria was intended to test its sensitivity to various kinds of antibiotics.

Humans get bubonic plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal.

In the Middle Ages, millions died from plague in Europe but modern antibiotics are now effective against plague. If untreated, however, the disease can still be deadly.

Outbreaks in humans still occur in rural communities or in cities where flea-infested rodents are present. A few cases are reported from time to time in New Mexico and Arizona.

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