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Anthrax widow sues federal government

Bob Stevens was the first of five people to die in the anthrax letter attacks.
Bob Stevens was the first of five people to die in the anthrax letter attacks.

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Mayo Clinic

(CNN) -- The widow of the Florida man who became the first victim of the 2001 anthrax attacks filed suit Wednesday against the federal government, claiming that lax security at a U.S. Army lab led to his death.

Maureen Stevens, the widow of tabloid photo editor Bob Stevens, is seeking $50 million.

Stevens died after inhaling anthrax that investigators believe was in a letter sent to American Media Inc. at its offices in Boca Raton, Florida.

Stevens worked on the third floor as a photo editor for The Sun, a tabloid published by American Media, which also publishes the National Enquirer, the Globe and the Weekly World News. He died October 5, three days after he entered the hospital with flu-like symptoms.

In all, 22 people were sickened and five died after a series of anthrax attacks that targeted news agencies in New York and a congressional office building in Washington.

The letter with anthrax delivered to American Media was never recovered but at least one other employee who worked with Stevens contracted anthrax and recovered. The American Media Inc. headquarters was quarantined by investigators and remains sealed.

In the lawsuit, Stevens said the anthrax that killed her husband was of the same strain as anthrax produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland.

Richard Schuler, a lawyer for Stevens, claimed that lax security at the lab may have aided whomever mailed the anthrax .

"They have tighter security at a 7-11," he said, referring to the ubiquitous convenience store chain.

A Justice Department spokesman in Washington said government attorneys had not yet been served with the court papers Wednesday evening.

"We'll have to review the complaint, and then make a determination what action we'll take," said spokesman Charles Miller.

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