Maine lab bootlegged avian flu virus; ex-execs charged
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:
BANGOR–The avian flu virus involved was H9N2, not the H5N1
strain now rampaging through Southeast Asia, nor one of the other
deadly H5 or H7 strains.
Still, an avian flu virus smuggling scheme recently exposed
in connection with the multi-count prosecution of three former Maine
Biological Laboratories executives has scared biological security
Former MBL chief financial officer Dennis H. Guerrette, 40,
of Brunswick, and former MBL vice president for production Thomas C.
Swieczkowski, 47, of Pittston, pleaded innocent on January 5 to
conspiracy, serving as accessories after the fact to biological
smuggling, and three counts each of mail fraud. Each mail fraud
count carries a penalty of as much as 20 years in prison and a fine
of up to $50,000.
The third ex-MBL executive, Marjorie Evans (whose age was
not stated) was charged with making false statements to investigators
and violating the Virus-Serum-Toxin Act.
Former MBL lab technicians Walter Gogan, 63, and Peggy
Lancaster, 47, in November 2003 pleaded guilty to related charges.
Gogan admitted being an accessory after the fact, which could carry
a sentence of up to 30 months in prison. Lancaster admitted to
ordering staff to falsely label vaccines, carrying a possible
penalty of one year in prison.
According to the indictments, MBL illegally obtained the
H9N2 virus from a Saudi Arabian customer in July 1998. The customer
paid MBL $895,704 for several batches of a vaccine cultured from the
virus between late 1998 and mid-1999. The MBL executives and staff
under prosecution allegedly began trying to conceal evidence of the
dealing later in 1999, after an informant tipped off federal
Guerrette, Swieczkowski, and Evans all later left the firm.