DOVER TOWNSHIP, N.J. – FBI agents investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks (search) searched the homes of a doctor who, days after the first anthrax mailings, had applied for a patent for a system to identify chemical and biological attacks.
Hours after Thursday's raids, Dr. Kenneth M. Berry (search) was charged with assault for allegedly fighting with four family members at a seaside motel, authorities said. Berry, 48, of Wellsville, N.Y., was released from jail on $10,000 bond.
More than three dozen agents, some in protective suits, combed through two Wellsville homes listed in property records as Berry's past and present addresses.
Officers also searched his parents' summer home here on the Jersey shore. They brought out garbage bags that appeared to be filled with bulky contents, said Jonathan DeGraw, 26, who rents the house next door. They also removed boxes containing clear plastic bags.
Two flatbed trucks hauled away two vehicles, according to another neighbor, Adam Fadel. One of the vehicles was returned Thursday evening.
An FBI spokesman in Washington said the FBI and Postal Inspection Service were searching multiple locations in Wellsville and Dover Township as part of the anthrax probe. He declined to say what agents were seeking.
"There is no present danger to public health or safety," said Joe Parris, FBI supervisory special agent.
Anthrax-laced envelopes were mailed in fall 2001 to government offices and news media. Five people were killed and 17 fell ill, further rattling a nation on edge after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Attorney General John Ashcroft had labeled Dr. Steven Hatfill (search), a former government scientist and bioweapons expert, as a "person of interest" in the case. Hatfill, who once worked at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick (search), Md., has denied any wrongdoing and sued Ashcroft and other officials, saying his reputation was ruined. The lawsuit is pending.
Berry's father, William C. Berry, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that his son and Hatfill know each other. Berry's Web site says he presented a bioterrorism paper at Fort Detrick in January 1997.
Berry's father said the FBI was unfairly targeting his son.
"Hey, here's a guy being shafted by the FBI," William Berry said at his home in Newtown, Conn. "It's just buying time because they have nothing on anthrax. You are looking at a setup."
Kenneth Berry was arrested Thursday by police responding to domestic dispute at the White Sands Motel in the vacation community of Point Pleasant Beach, about 10 miles from Dover Township. Berry's relationship to the four was not immediately known.
Berry, who founded an organization in 1997 that trains medical professionals to respond to chemical and biological attacks, applied for his patent on Sept. 28, 2001, according to the Patent and Trademark Office Web site. It was awarded last March.
"In an era where chemical, biological or nuclear attacks at one or more locations either globally or within a country are possible, it is desirable to have a surveillance system capable of locating and identifying the type of attack so that a rapid response can be initiated," the description of the invention's background read.
Berry's system uses a computer to combine weather data with information on how various concentrations of biological or chemical agents would affect a specific location, according to the patent office filing.
Berry's organization is called PREEMPT Medical Counter-Terrorism Inc.; PREEMPT stands for Planned Response Exercises and Emergency Medical Preparedness Training. In a 1997 USA Today interview, he advocated the broad distribution of anthrax vaccine.
"We ought to be planning to make anthrax vaccine widely available to the population starting in the major cities," he said. The remarks were made soon after the Pentagon announced it would begin inoculating all 2.4 million military personnel against anthrax.
"I just can't believe he'd be involved in anything like (anthrax) but who knows? Life's kind of funny," said William DiBerardino, a retired administrator at Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville, where Berry was director of emergency services until 2001.
"He's an emergency room doctor. He's not a chemist or anything like that," DiBerardino said.
Berry pleaded guilty in 1999 to disorderly conduct to settle charges of forgery. State police said Berry's signature was on a fake will of the late Dr. Andrew Colletta, according to The Wellsville Daily Reporter. While initially charged with two counts of second-degree forgery, the plea to a lesser violation allowed him to keep his medical license.
"From what I know, he's a fine, conscientious physician who always had the interest of his patients at heart," said Joseph Pelych, the lawyer who represented Berry in that case. "I find it hard to believe he would be involved" in anthrax.