New Charges Reveal Criminal History of Plague Dr. - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

9/3/03

New Charges Reveal Criminal History of Plague Dr.

His demeanor as calm and collected as it was in January, Dr. Thomas Butler plead "Not Guilty" to the government's expanded indictment. 69 counts of wrongdoing, entitled "The Scheme." Alleging the orchestration of an intricate web of deception for profit.

Eight months ago, the search at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center was for 30 missing vials of plague bacteria. Affectionately described as "The Absent-Minded Professor," his former colleagues say Butler accidentally destroyed the vials then grew nervous once he realized he failed to follow protocol. But federal authorities paint a very different portrait of Butler. A research scientist who spent as much time in the lab as he did devising schemes to satisfy his greed. A man who allegedly embezzled, defrauded and stole thousands of dollars over a period of five years.

Beginning in 1998, Butler allegedly embezzled over $375,000 from two contracts TTUHSC had with pharmaceutical companies Chiron and Pharmacia. What's more, he supposedly set up private contracts with each company earning unauthorized income on the side. Add to that, two counts of smuggling, with Butler allegedly illegally importing the plague bacteria from Tanzania to London, to Dallas, to Lubbock.

If convicted on all counts, he faces 469 years in prison and $17.1 million in fines. "He's being crucified in my opinion," said Dr. Frank Ryburn. At the courthouse, his former colleagues offered their support. "He's an honorable gentleman, a great physician of international accord, and he's been devastated," said Ryburn.

Despite the 36 page indictment, several questions remain unanswered, such as why was Butler allegedly smuggling in the plague bacteria? And were the original 30 missing vials of plague somehow involved in the doctor's scheme? Questions the U.S. Attorney's office says will be answered during the trial, which begins November 3rd.

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