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2 charged with making biological weapons

Suspects Harris, right, and Leavitt are taken into custody  

1 has ties to white supremacist groups

In this story:

February 19, 1998
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST (0420 GMT)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- The FBI has arrested two men, including a self-professed white separatist, on charges of developing and stockpiling a biological agent -- suspected of being deadly anthrax -- and conspiring to use it as a weapon.

The FBI announced the arrests of Larry Wayne Harris and William Job Leavitt Jr. at a news conference Thursday. The men were taken into custody Wednesday evening and were being held at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas.

"These individuals posed a potential chemical and biological threat to our community," said FBI Special Agent Bobby Siller. "It was suspected that these individuals were in possession of a dangerous biological chemical, anthrax."

FBI Special Agent Bobby Siller discusses the arrests.

FBI Special Agent Bobby Siller describes how the evidence was handled
icon 969K/44 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

However, Leavitt's lawyer, Lamond Mills, said that what the FBI actually seized was a substance the two men hoped to test and market as an anthrax vaccine.

Thursday afternoon, Harris and Leavitt made an appearance before a U.S. magistrate. No pleas were entered, and a decision on whether to release them on bond will be made at a hearing on Monday. The government has requested that they be held without bond.

Siller said the FBI has "no evidence" that any site in Las Vegas had been contaminated with biological agents.

However, a white Mercedes was seized, wrapped in protective plastic and taken to Nellis Air Force Base outside of the city for examination. One source told CNN that agents found "broken vials" in the seized car.

Other sources said tests will be conducted at Nellis to identify the materials seized, which will take 24 to 48 hours.

sealed Mercedes
The white Mercedes was sealed in plastic and taken to Nellis AFB for examination  

Arrests came after tip

The FBI was tipped off to Harris' alleged activities by a man in Las Vegas who said Harris had told him of his ability to make biological agents, a top law enforcement source told CNN.

The man apparently went with Harris to a medical office outside Las Vegas to observe Harris' makeshift laboratory, an official said.

Agents responding to the tip seized unknown materials and petri dishes and "locked them up," the source said. "We're not sure what the hell they got."

Siller said agents were told one of the agents was anthrax, a bacteria that normally infects animals and can be deadly for humans, especially when inhaled.

Affidavits filed with arrest warrants for the men identifies the tipster as Ronald Rockwell, a cancer researcher who operated the medical clinic. He has a criminal record that includes two extortion convictions, the FBI's affidavit said.

Mills said Rockwell was trying to sell Leavitt and Harris instruments they could use in their efforts to develop an anti-anthrax vaccine. He said Rockwell called the FBI after Harris and Leavitt balked at Rockwell's demand for cash up front before the instruments were tested for their research.

Larry Wayne Harris
Larry Wayne Harris  

Harris on probation for buying bubonic plague

Harris, 46, a native of West Virginia who now lives in Lancaster, Ohio, has a microbiology degree from Ohio State University. He has written extensively on the dangers of biological warfare and how people can protect themselves with massive doses of antibiotics.

Harris has described himself as a white separatist. He once held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the far-right white separatist group Aryan Nations, and he has also told reporters that he is a follower of the Christian Identity movement.

During the 1980s, Harris was questioned about his involvement with the Aryan Nations by the Secret Service in advance of a visit to Ohio State by then-President George Bush.

In 1995, he was arrested after purchasing three vials of bubonic plague by mail from a Maryland laboratory.

That was not in and of itself a crime, but Harris was convicted on two counts of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud for misrepresenting the purpose of the purchase, a federal offense.

At the time, Harris told prosecutors in Lancaster he was worried about the effects of "super germ-carrying rats" coming from Iraq.

Though still on probation for his 1995 conviction, he has permission to travel and gives speeches at gun shows about biological warfare.

Leavitt also a microbiologist

A behavior science expert who looked at Harris for the FBI after his previous arrest advised agents "to take him seriously because he had this stuff before," a source said.

Less is known about Leavitt, 47. The FBI affidavit says he is also a microbiologist who owns clinics in Logandale, Nevada, where he lives, and Frankfurt, Germany.

"My son is the most caring person you would ever find," said his mother, Betty Leavitt. Describing her son as a very religious Mormon, she said he "prays every time" there is danger of a world conflict and is "extremely concerned about germ warfare."

Separatist allegedly described New York attack

According to an affidavit filed with his arrest warrant, Harris told a group last summer of a 1995 plan to "place a 'globe' of bubonic plague toxins in a New York City subway station, where it would be broken by a passing subway train, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths."

He told the group, according to the affidavit, that "the Iraqis would be blamed for that event."

However, Siller said that there is as of yet no indication as to "what the target might have been or even if there was a target at this point."

In New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani called a news conference to discount any connection between the arrests in Nevada and a plan to attack New York.


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