Doctor in anthrax probe had filed bioterror patent
DOVER TOWNSHIP, N.J. – The bioterrorism expert whose homes were raided by FBI agents investigating the anthrax attacks had sought a patent for a system to identify chemical and biological strikes in September 2001.
Dr. Kenneth M. Berry filed a provisional patent for the system in October 2000 and filed the actual patent application Sept. 28, 2001, 10 days after the first anthrax letters were postmarked. He touted the system as an effective way to respond to bioterrorism attacks.
“In an era where chemical, biological or nuclear attacks at one or more locations either globally or within a country are possible, it is desirable to have a surveillance system capable of locating and identifying the type of attack so that a rapid response can be initiated,” a description of the invention said.
Berry has not been connected to the attacks, and he told police that he had nothing to do with anthrax, Point Pleasant Beach Police Chief Daniel DePolo said in a news conference Friday.
“He just denied he was guilty of anything,” DePolo said.
On Thursday, more than three dozen agents, some in protective suits, searched two homes listed in records as Berry’s past and present addresses in Wellsville, N.Y., a village of 5,000 residents near the Pennsylvania line.
About 250 miles southeast, the Jersey shore home of Berry’s parents was also searched, and neighbors said investigators brought out bulky garbage bags and towed away two vehicles, later returning one. There was no sign of further police activity there Friday.
The FBI said the public was not in danger.
The searches came nearly three years after five people were killed and 17 fell ill when anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed to government offices and news media, triggering even more fear in a country already shaken by Sept. 11. The anthrax investigation has baffled the government and turned up few leads.
Hours after Thursday’s raids, Berry, 46, was charged with assault for allegedly fighting with four family members at a motel in New Jersey, authorities said. The family members required treatment at medical facilities.
“Apparently, there was a dispute over a cell phone, and it’s my understanding that there was a lot of stress from search warrants that were being conducted,” DePolo said.
In 1997, Berry founded an organization that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks. The bioterrorism-response system uses a computer to combine weather data with information on how various concentrations of biological or chemical agents would affect a specific location, according to the patent filing. The patent was granted in March.
Berry appeared on NBC News that year warning about terrorism and was quoted in USA Today urging widespread anthrax inoculations.
A New Jersey native, Berry was director of emergency services at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville until 2001. He resigned after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct to settle charges of forgery. He was also once charged with forgery in a fake-will case, but pleaded to a lesser violation and was allowed to keep his medical license.
Berry’s father said he is being “shafted by the FBI” because the government has been unable to find whoever is behind the deadly mailings.
“It’s just buying time because they have nothing on anthrax,” William Berry told the Star-Ledger of Newark from his home in Newtown, Conn. “You are looking at a setup.”
One leading investigative theory is that the 2001 anthrax incident was a case of a well-meaning warning gone wrong.
The envelopes were labeled so the recipient would know to take antibiotics. The people who died were infected by spores that leaked from the envelopes.