Thomas C. Butler
Thomas Campbell Butler is an American scientist specializing in infectious diseases including cholera and bubonic plague at Texas Tech University since 1987. He is credited with making oral hydration the standard treatment for diarrhea.
Butler was arrested in 2003 and prosecuted by the United States Justice Department for, among many other charges, illegal transportation of plague samples, tax evasion, fraud, and embezzlement. He was convicted of 47 out of 69 charges and served a two year jail term ending in December 2005, having reportedly rejected a plea bargain offer.
Early life and education
In January 2003, Butler reported 30 vials of plague missing from his laboratory to safety officers at Texas Tech University. The missing vials apparently triggered a bioterrorism response plan. Sixty law enforcement officers were sent to investigate, and they arrested Butler after questioning him. The Justice Department accused Butler of illegal transportation of plague samples, tax evasion, fraud, and embezzlement, among other charges. Butler pleaded not guilty in September 2003, turning down a plea-bargain offer for a six-month sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
He was convicted on December 1, 2003 of 47 of the 69 charges filed against him. Of the convictions, three were for improper shipment of plague samples to collaborators in Tanzania and forty-four were related to what prosecutors called "shadow contracts" for his research at Texas Tech.
The prosecution of Butler was met with disapproval by many groups of scientists, including colleagues, the National Academy of Sciences, several Nobel Prize winners, and the Federation of American Scientists. Critics of the prosecution suggested that the aggressive prosecution of a prominent scientist would make other scientists reluctant to carry out research in dangerous diseases for fear of similar prosecutions.
Butler is currently listed on the US Department of Commerce's Denied Persons list, which prohibits his direct or indirect participation "in any way in any transaction involving any commodity, software or technology... exported or to be exported from the United States that is subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), or in any other activity subject to the EAR."
Miami Airport incident
On Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, Dr. Butler was transiting through Miami International Airport when security personnel noted "a 12-inch metal canister with black screw tops at both ends, buried in the research scientist's baggage."
This led to his detainment, along with a partial evacuation at the airport and rerouting of planes away from the closest terminals.
After extended interviews and investigations, Dr. Butler was released and allowed to continue on his journey.
- Kimberly, James. "Before plague scare, prof was respected expert, researcher", Houston Chronicle, January 17, 2003.
- Chang, Kenneth. "Split Verdicts in Texas Trial Of Professor and the Plague", New York Times, December 2, 2003.
- "U. S. Bureau of Industry and Security - The Current List of Active Denied Persons". Bis.doc.gov. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "U. S. Bureau of Industry and Security - Denied Persons List: The Standard Order". Bis.doc.gov. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- "`Plague doctor' takes a curious journey". Retrieved 2010-09-05.
- Murray, B. E. et al. "Destroying the Life and Career of a Valued Physician-Scientist Who Tried to Protect Us from Plague: Was It Really Necessary?" Clinical Infectious Diseases. v40, pp. 1644–1648 (2005)