Charges against artist Steve Kurtz thrown out

A judge dismissed charges against Steve Kurtz, professor and member of the Critical Art Ensemble, who has been in a four year legal battle after police discovered biological lab equipment and harmless bacteria in his home. The cops were at his house because he called 911 to report that his wife had died of heart failure. He had the biological gear and specimens for an art project. Kurtz was initially investigated for bioterrorism but later indicted for mail and wire fraud. From the New York Times:
U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara ruled that the 2004 mail and wire fraud indictment against Steven Kurtz, a University at Buffalo professor, was ''insufficient on its face..."

''Obviously this is a weight off his back, but he still had to suffer through this for four years,'' said Kurtz's attorney, Paul Cambria. ''The last thing this guy is is a bioterrorist.''

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo said it was considering an appeal but otherwise declined to discuss the ruling.
Link (Thanks, Jody Radzik!)

Previously on BB:
• Art attack update Link
• Art of bioterrorism? RU Sirius interviews Steve Kurtz Link
• Case against Steve Kurtz continues Link
• Battling for bio art Link
• Art attack Link


  1. Good news, but it’s very sad that it took this long. I hope we leave our current paranoia phase behind soon. Something tells me that won’t happen.

  2. My digestive track is full of bacteria and dangerous acid. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned that on the intarnet…

  3. lesson taken: never trust the cops.

    In hindsight he should have called an ambulance and moved her to the front door. Never allow an emergency situation to develop into cops crossing your threshold. They’ll screw you every time. It’s their nature.

    Further, you must take the baseline view that any government you must deal with is stupid, venal, incompetent and basically looking to destroy your life. That way you always begin protected and if they actually do their job by accident, it is a pleasant surprise.

  4. ”insufficient on its face…”

    i knew i shoulda been a judge. i was telling people that four years ago!

  5. @2: exactly. I had two Activia live yogurts for dessert yesterday evening, and I nearly turned myself in to the authorities.

  6. I wish the prosecutor who pushed this bogus case for four years was disbarred, fined, and imprisoned for four years.

  7. 4 years of investigation? To figure out that there was nothing? Is it a joke?

    At that level of incompetence, it is not just the terrorists that are frightening, it is the police too.

    Scared people. Who’s benefit?

  8. They are considering an appeal?


    Your tax dollars at work there.

    This prosecution will have cost a FORTUNE already.

    But then the District attorneys office anywhere in the US is usually very reticent to walk away with out a conviction when they have spent large.

    Nice to know that this college proffessor could still be put away for bio terrrorism because otherwise it’s make the cost to convictions ratio look bad.

    Hurrah for the bean counters.

  9. I wonder what his legal fees were like? I hope there was a defense fund or something. I estimate that he’s well into the quarter million point after four years. The government gets to drag your ass into court, bankrupt you, and then fail to make their case. And the citizen gets screwed all the way down unless the ACLU or some other group picks up the case. It makes me sick that justice is often about who can afford the better lawyer.

    I’m very conflicted about the police. I’ve been harassed by local cops and haven’t enjoyed it at all. But I know there are good ones out there too. It’s easy to become bigoted based on limited personal experience.

  10. Of all the stupid, pointless cases to prosecute, why this? What good could it possibly serve?

  11. Dr. Robert Ferrell, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Steve Kurtz’s co-defendant in this case, plead guilty in October 2007 to a misdemeanor charge of “mailing an injurious article” to Kurtz. He had to plead guilty because the prosecution had ruined him financially, and made his personal battle with cancer all the more impossible.

    A distinguished scholar, collaborating with another (like many had done before him and fewer afterwards?), on important, cross-disciplinary work, saw himself forced to take a rotten plea deal to avoid putting himself and his family further into a financial and emotional hole. The plea deal racket is but one way where overzealous prosecutors get away with theirs.

    The police thought they had a ‘terrist cell’ and the prosecutor, even when the evidence early-on was plainly to the contrary, wanted this feather in his cap at any cost.

    Even the innocent don’t come out unscathed if The System leaves this much power in the hands of politically motivated and ambitious bureaucrats. Who punishes them for the victims they create?

    They could argue that the system worked in the end. Well that’s just fucking great if you ignore the trail of dead and wounded.

  12. Just shuffle along quietly with your heads down. HEY! YOU! YOU, THERE! Get your head down, troublemaker! I don’t like your attitude!

  13. @ #13 jeff

    yes there is a defense fund. he almost certainly still needs to recuperate dough… CAEDEFENSEFUND.ORG

    @ #5 agent 86

    probably. i wonder if they returned his papers, computers, information about his students, etc…

    @ #10 mark, #11 jean, #12 error re: 4 years

    the four years isn’t surprising at all considering that the purpose of this case was an attempted “hit-job”, harassment and VERY politically motivated. just read electronic civil disobedience and other unpopular ideas to get a small taste of kurtz’s subversive skills. he was a teacher of mine in the carnegie mellon university art department. he basically taught anarchist theory and culture-jamming to some of the brightest minds of the youth. the government attention is proof he was being effective.


    Man that is depressing.

    Witless feckless authority is one thing, conspiracy to destroy for thought crime quite another.

  15. A lifetime of watching public officials insist they have “caught their man”, even when Morley Safer of 60 Minutes is showing them evidence to the contrary, has convinced me that public officials are more beholden unto their own egos than unto the public good. THAT’S why they are considering an appeal– bruised ego. They will probably insist that they need to set a precedent of some kind, that the general public shouldnt be allowed to have dangerous bacteria in their homes. But of course the bacteria in this case wasn’t dangerous.

  16. Is this good news?

    yes, it’s great news, and I’m glad it seems to be over, BUT!

    Charges should never have been made in the first place. Gratuitous and arbitrary prosecutions like this one are definitely not without cost to their victims and might have a tremendous chilling effect on public life. Something really needs to be done with the American legal system to make it less hamfisted.

  17. Who’s the prosecutor responsible for this? Does he have to stand for re-election? How about his boss? Same thing? You can go after these guys.

    Who’s got the scoop on that? Anyone? Be good to know. Because Steve Kurtz hasn’t “beaten them.” He’s gone through four years of completely unnecessary hell that started the night his wife died. The kind of prosecutor who could do something like that just to puff up his own reputation is not someone who ought to be holding office in this country.

    I don’t know what kind of shape Kurtz is in, mentally and emotionally, but I know what his finances have to look like.

  18. The prosecutor that brought charges against Kurtz should be tried in a court of law and sent to prison for four years himself.

    It’s bad enough Kurtz lost his wife, but the bioterrorism charges thrown up against him were a political farce.

  19. Kurtz is a very brave man. The government is made up of moronic cowards. As the late Robert Anton Wilson said, the biggest and most dangerous conspiracy is the conspiracy of stupidity and stupid people.

  20. these kinds of cases seem to generate a most peculiar sort of schizoid presedence; government agencies increase their power to harass individuals who, in retrospect, are no longer even remotely perceivable as any kind of “threat” to society whatsoever.

    it’s like chopping down a forest so you can build a giant catapult in order to shoot at the animals that no longer live there…

  21. I have just watched the film “Stange Culture”.
    Living in Australia, I had never heard of Steve Kurtz. I shake my head in disbelief At Professor Kurtz` treatment at the hands of the U.S Government.
    To my way of thinking, it seems that the actual Government of the U.S.A, are in fact the big Monopolies and Cartels, and that the Elected Government is purely the mouth piece of these huge Muti-nationals.

  22. re#27:
    I just watched it (the film Strange Culture)as well. I was jaw-droppingly appalled at the Kafkaesque nightmare that Prof. Kurtz has been forced to endure. Not totally shocked, mind you, for as a child of the turbulent 50’s in the deep south, I have seen this sort of thing happen in the USA before. It scares me to no end to witness a so-called ‘righteously sanctioned’ part of our society (a political party) that has utilized Fear so well so that it has seized control of far too many otherwise perfectly decent people. They (that political den of anakes) are afraid of losing control. Same old game these good old boys cannot seem to stop themselves from playing. In a way, it’s as if there are separate subspecies of people amoung us. The Selfish and the Giving. The false freedom patriots and those who reluctantly become heros to those of us who do see that our rights are always and chronically will be forever at risk of being taken away. I clearly see a cycle starting all over again. I do hope folks are up to the task. We need young activists now more than ever. The sh*t has already hit the proverbial fan and too many are mopping up even as I type.

  23. i just watched a movie/documentary about this, then searched to find out if he was convicted. you should watch it, it makes things alot clearer. and it will definately make you think differently about what you eat and why things were blown out of perportion.
    the movies called Strange Culture, you can watch it free on

  24. Injurus material, compared to the stuff they spray on our food, the aspestos in our homes, the dioxins in our seafood, this has got to be a horrible dream.

  25. GMO foods need GMO fertilizers and GMO pesticides; and then hopefully GMO sunlight, GMO soil, and GMO water. Think about the economic growth. Think about the profit. The deaths thru famine and war will be a market correction.

  26. Since Steve’s wifes body was immediately taken to hide what happened to her, and Steve was obviously already being watched because of GMO’s, did anyone consider an autopsy on her to find out if she had maybe been taken out by the Corporation, just to get to Steve. I know it sounds crazy, but after watching the show it was the only conclusion I could come up with that did make any sense.
    Not only that I had to take down my damn foil.

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