Man Arrested in Probe of Illegal Shipment of Plague Bacteria
A man who said he was a white supremacist was arrested for allegedly obtaining bubonic plague bacteria through the mail, and investigators say they are trying to learn what he planned to do with it.
Larry W. Harris had “rather radical views” and told colleagues at a food testing lab where he worked that he was a white supremacist and sympathetic to the militia movement, Superior Labs spokesman Brad Starrett said Tuesday.
The company fired Harris on Monday because he used lab equipment and certification without permission to obtain the bacteria, Starrett said. Harris was a well and tank inspector at the suburban Dublin lab.
He was charged with buying $300 worth of yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague. Police allege he bought the vials through the mail by falsely claiming that he owned a laboratory.
Officers searching Harris’ home in Lancaster, Ohio, after his arrest Friday said they spotted an Aryan Nation document hanging on a wall. They also found hand grenade triggers, homemade explosives and detonating fuses.
Starrett said Harris told him he was a member of white separatist groups, including the National Alliance.
Police confiscated the freeze-dried bacteria--which is harmless in that form--before it could be reconstituted. The bacteria can be reconstituted by using a combination of heat and water.
Harris, 43, pleaded not guilty to receiving stolen property, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
His lawyers declined comment.
Bubonic plague killed one-fourth of the European population in the Middle Ages. Although fatal if undetected, it now is treatable with antibiotics, said Ohio public health spokesman Randy Hertzer.
Authorities were alerted by a suspicious telephone operator at American Type Culture Collection in Rockville, Md., which sold Harris the vials.
The company’s vice president, Frank Simione, said Harris represented himself as a microbiologist who was qualified to receive the bacteria.
Starrett said Harris was certified only to test drinking water for bacteria.