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Art or Terrorism? Buffalo Professor Faces 20 Yrs For Biotech Art

StoryJuly 08, 2004
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Buffalo art professor Steve Kurtz and Pittsburgh professor Robert Ferrell face 20 years in prison on mail and wire fraud charges after the FBI found harmless bacteria used in art displays in Kurtz’s apartment.

On May 11, Buffalo art professor Steve Kurtz phoned 911 after waking up to find his wife of 20 years, Hope, not breathing. The police who arrived at his house noticed materials used in Kutz’s artwork on genetic modification and called the FBI.

Kurtz is a member of the highly-regarded Critical Arts Ensemble, a group whose exhibits include utilizing DNA, bacteria, and other forms of molecular life to spark public debate on scientific issues such as genetically modified food.

The FBI came in, cordoned off half the block and took Kurtz into custody. They confiscated his computer, his notebooks, his art supplies, the cat and his wife’s body.

The authorities searched the house for two days before announcing that there was no public health risk and that no toxic material had been found. Kurtz was allowed to return home and his wife’s death was attributed to heart failure.

But the story didn’t end there. A month later, a grand jury was convened to investigate whether Kurtz had violated anti-bioterrorism laws. Now, Kurtz and a Pittsburgh professor Robert Ferrell each face up to 20 years in prison on indictments of mail and wire fraud.


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