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Last Updated

25 Aug 2003

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 12, 2002.

Agents finish building search

By Kathy Bushouse, Staff Writer

BOCA RATON Federal officials are calling the 12-day investigation at the anthrax-contaminated American Media Inc. building the largest hazardous materials evidence collection effort in FBI history.

The effort ended Tuesday, with investigators removing almost 5,000 evidence samples after more than 550 trips into the building, said Judy Orihuela, an FBI spokeswoman in Miami.

Orihuela wouldn't say what was removed from the building, or say whether investigators found the culprit letter that brought anthrax into the AMI building that once housed publications including the National Enquirer, the Star and the Weekly World News.

Also Wednesday, FBI agents investigating the anthrax mailings conducted a third search of the former apartment of Dr. Steven J. Hatfill in Frederick, Md. From 1997 to 1999, Hatfill worked at the Army's biological warfare defense center. The FBI declined to comment.

In Boca Raton, with evidence collection completed, some officials say they want to have the building cleaned up as soon as possible.

Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams said that while the building poses no immediate health risk, it could be a security problem.

"Should its exterior be breached in any way ... whether by hurricane or other natural disaster or through the agency of terrorists or other malefactors, the results would be catastrophic," Abrams wrote in a letter to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is proposing a measure in the U.S. Senate to have the federal government take over and clean up the building.

"The state of Florida is spending millions to eliminate the spread of non-lethal canker to assist the citrus industry, while little is being done to help clean up deadly anthrax," Abrams wrote. "This country's national security was targeted by the anthrax attack, not a particular business."

The measure is expected to come soon before the Senate.

The building has been under quarantine since Oct. 7, two days after photo editor Bob Stevens (case 5) died from inhalation anthrax. Another AMI employee, mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco (case 7), contracted anthrax but recovered.

Wrapping up work at the AMI building means investigators could get new clues in the investigation into who mailed anthrax-laced letters to the tabloid publisher, as well as to U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

In all, five people died from anthrax contracted from those letters.

Using new techniques and tools for detecting anthrax, officials had hoped to find the Boca Raton letter, which they think may contain evidence that will lead them to the person who mailed the anthrax, as well as to the identity of the intended target of the mailing.