The Ohio white supremacist who received a 1995 mail-order shipment of the germ that causes bubonic plague pleaded guilty Tuesday to a single count of wire fraud.
Larry Wayne Harris, a one-time Aryan Nations member who received the plague sample from a Rockville, Md., laboratory, was sentenced to 18 months’ probation and ordered to stop saying he works for the CIA.
Harris, 46, makes the CIA claim in the book he said he was researching when he placed his fraudulent order to American Type Culture Collection, the world’s largest microorganism repository. The book, “Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America,” is subtitled “What You and Your Family Can Do - Before - and After.”
“I am a scientist. I am absolutely of no harm to anyone,” Harris told U.S. District Judge Joseph Kinneary in Columbus, who at a recent hearing ordered the defendant off the witness stand for calling local police “storm troopers.”
His attorney said the Lancaster, Ohio, man was relieved to avoid the jury trial, scheduled to begin next week.
“It was going to be difficult to overcome the shock value of when they hear the words ‘bubonic plague,’ and it being sent through the mail,” said defense attorney George Luther.
For their part, prosecutors declared themselves satisfied to close a frustrating case that did much to change federal law on transporting pathogens.
Workers at the Rockville lab grew suspicious of Harris after he pestered them about his order of “Yersinia pestis” in May 1995.
The lab alerted authorities, who found the three vials in the glove compartment of Harris’s 1989 Subaru. They also found M-1 carbines, blasting caps and white separatist literature at Harris’s house.
When tested, the plague samples turned out to be avirulent, meaning they had lost much of their potency. But prosecutors were nonetheless shaken to learn that no federal law restricted possession of a pathogen that, although treatable today with antibiotics, is so virulent that in the Middle Ages it wiped out one-third of the population of Europe.
Harris was charged only with fraud, for saying that the germ was destined for the company he worked for.
The case prompted Congress to require that certain disease-causing organisms be registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when being transported and received. In addition, the World Federation of Culture Collections adopted a resolution urging the world’s 450 microorganism repositories to voluntarily track disease agents.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.