updated 3/10/2004 3:44:35 PM ET 2004-03-10T20:44:35

A former Texas Tech University professor who started a bioterrorism scare last year when he reported plague bacteria missing was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison.

The professor, Dr. Thomas C. Butler, 62, was also fined $15,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $38,000. He had already agreed to retire from the school and surrender his medical license.

Butler gave no reaction when the sentence was read. He remains free on bond but must report to federal authorities April 14.

Butler had faced up to 240 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for convictions that stemmed from an investigation after he reported that 30 vials of the bacterium were missing from his lab in January 2003.

He later said he accidentally destroyed the samples, but during his trial he testified that he had no clear memory of destroying the vials and that they could have been destroyed during his cleanup of an accident.

The chem-bio threat

Butler’s attorneys had sought probation.

In January, after his conviction, Butler agreed to pay $250,000 to the school and retire. Last month, he voluntarily surrendered his medical license to the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

In December, a jury convicted Butler of mislabeling a Federal Express package that contained plague samples he sent to Tanzania, as well as of their unauthorized export to the African country.

The jury also found Butler guilty of theft, embezzlement, fraud, and mail and wire fraud pertaining to shadow contracts that prosecutors claimed he illegally negotiated while at Texas Tech. The settlement with Texas Tech pertained to these charges.

He was acquitted of the most serious charges of smuggling and illegally transporting the potentially deadly germ and of charges of lying to federal agents about the missing vials.

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