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Last Updated

25 Aug 2003

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 14, 2002.

811 AMI letters among items collected

By Patty Pensa, Staff Writer

BOCA RATON At least 811 letters are part of the almost 5,000 pieces of evidence removed from the anthrax-contaminated American Media Inc. building in the past two weeks -- part of a yearlong investigation that has yet to reveal the letter that exposed tabloid photo editor Bob Stevens (case 5) to the deadly disease.

FBI officials, who completed their search of the quarantined Broken Sound Boulevard building Tuesday, filed in federal court this week a 34-page inventory identifying retrieved items.

The first-floor mailroom was the focus of the FBI search. There, investigators took out 12 mail shelves, 11 vacuum samplings from mail slots, 11 box tops and 33 folders along with a green mailbag containing 769 letters and four boxes containing 42 letters. Much of the mail was returned contest entry forms.

The inventory also showed various personal belongings and laboratory equipment the FBI brought in for the search.

Stevens, who died Oct. 5, became the first victim of inhalation anthrax in the United States since 1976. AMI mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco (case 7) contracted the disease but recovered.

"I'm more concerned about knowing whether they find the culprit than whether they find the letter," said Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams.

The inventory did not answer that question. Nor did it answer why the anthrax mailer chose AMI or one of its tabloid publications. During more than 550 trips, FBI agents scoured the 70,000-square-foot building for business records that could explain why the building was a target.

AMI spokesman Gerald McKelvey said the inventory is part of routine procedure after buildings are searched under warrant. Using new technology to trace the path of spores and find clusters, FBI agents searched mail, packages, desks, briefcases, bags, file cabinets and any other kind of containers.

"They were obviously concentrating on the mailroom and anything that came through the mail," he said. "It's not surprising."

Before the building was quarantined Oct. 7, thousands of pieces of mail were processed daily.

Two vacuum samples and six carpet samples were also taken from the mailroom. Other samples came from air filters and air monitors. Three broom heads and two mop heads were removed as well.

The inventory listed items recovered in the 12-day search, which began with building surveys Aug. 27. McKelvey and Abrams said they do not expect the FBI to return.

Studying spores on collected items may show a connection between anthrax mailed to the New York offices of NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, the New York Post, and the Washington, D.C., offices of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle.

Abrams, in the meantime, is lobbying for the federal government to take over and decontaminate the building. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is proposing legislation to do just that, and Abrams is pushing for the bill to pass before Congress ends its session in October.