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Doctor in anthrax search charged with assault

A doctor whose homes were searched by FBI agents investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks was charged with assault for allegedly fighting with four relatives just hours after the raids, authorities said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A doctor whose homes were searched by FBI agents investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks was charged with assault for allegedly fighting with four family members at a motel just hours after the raids, authorities said.

Dr. Kenneth M. Berry, who founded an organization in 1997 that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks, was arrested Thursday afternoon by police responding to domestic dispute at the White Sands Motel in the resort community of Point Pleasant Beach. His relationship to the four was not immediately known.

Berry, 46, of Wellsville, N.Y., was released from the Ocean County Jail after posting $10,000 bail.

Items removed from home
Several hours before Berry’s arrest, neighbors said officers arrived at his parents’ summer home in Dover Township. They brought out garbage bags that appeared to be filled with bulky contents, said Jonathan DeGraw, 26, who rents the house next door. They also removed boxes with clear plastic bags in them.

Two flatbed trucks hauled away two vehicles, according to another neighbor, Adam Fadel. One of the vehicles was returned Thursday evening.

In Wellsville, more than three dozen agents, some in protective suits, combed through two homes listed in property records as the past and present addresses of Berry.

The investigators in Wellsville, a bucolic village of 5,000 residents near the Pennsylvania line, wrapped up their daylong search after dark but did not reveal whether they found anthrax, Mayor Brad Thompson said Friday.

“They packed up and they’re gone,” the mayor said. “They may be doing some follow-up interviews but ... as far as I know, they’re no longer in Wellsville.”

An FBI spokesman in Washington said the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service were searching multiple locations in Wellsville and Dover Township as part of the anthrax probe. He would not comment on what agents were seeking.

“There is no present danger to public health or safety,” said Joe Parris, FBI supervisory special agent.

Reached late Wednesday, Kenneth Berry’s father, William Berry, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that his son is being unfairly targeted by the FBI.

“Hey, here’s a guy being shafted by the FBI,” Berry said at his home in Newtown, Conn. “It’s just buying time because they have nothing on anthrax. You are looking at a setup.”

Anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed in the fall of 2001 to news media and government offices. Five people were killed and 17 fell ill. The mailings further rattled a nation already on edge after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Berry’s organization is called PREEMPT Medical Counter-Terrorism Inc.; PREEMPT stands for Planned Response Exercises and Emergency Medical Preparedness Training. In a 1997 USA Today interview, he advocated the broad distribution of anthrax vaccine.

“We ought to be planning to make anthrax vaccine widely available to the population starting in the major cities,” he said. The remarks were made soon after the Pentagon announced it would begin inoculating all 2.4 million military personnel against anthrax.

Berry an ER doctor
“I just can’t believe he’d be involved in anything like (anthrax) but who knows? Life’s kind of funny,” said William DiBerardino, a retired administrator at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, where Berry was director of emergency services until 2001.

“He’s an emergency room doctor. He’s not a chemist or anything like that,” DiBerardino said.

Berry pleaded guilty in 1999 to disorderly conduct to settle charges of forgery. State police said Berry’s signature was on a fake will of the late Dr. Andrew Colletta, according to The Wellsville Daily Reporter. While initially charged with two counts of second-degree forgery, the plea to a lesser violation allowed him to keep his medical license.

“From what I know, he’s a fine, conscientious physician who always had the interest of his patients at heart,” said Joseph Pelych, the lawyer who represented Berry in that case. “I find it hard to believe he would be involved in” anthrax.

Attorney General John Ashcroft had labeled Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former government scientist and bioweapons expert, as a “person of interest” in the case. Hatfill, who once worked at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., has denied any wrongdoing and sued Ashcroft and other officials, saying his reputation was ruined. The lawsuit is pending.