A substance once feared to be a biological weapon turned out to be a safe form of anthrax used in animal vaccines, and one of the two men arrested in a case that sent fear through the region was released from jail Saturday.
"I absolutely have no hard feelings," a visibly shaken William Leavitt Jr. said at a news conference, calling the circumstances that led to his arrest "misunderstandings and probably some miscommunication."The FBI insisted Saturday that arresting the two men on biological weapons charges was necessary to protect the public.
"Because of the potential serious threat to the community, our actions had to be quick and decisive," said Bobby Siller, special agent in charge of the FBI's Las Vegas office. "We had to act the way we did."
Under an agreement his attorney reached with prosecutors, Leavitt will be allowed to remain free on his own recognizance while authorities determine whether to drop charges.
The other man, Larry Wayne Harris of Lancaster, Ohio, who is on probation for an earlier conviction, remained in jail and was to appear in court Monday for a detention hearing.
The anthrax material, tested at an Army laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., was found by FBI agents Wednesday during the arrests of Leavitt and Harris.
Both men were charged with conspiracy to possess and possession of a biological agent for use as a weapon. Tests showed the material was not military-grade anthrax, which is potent enough to kill thousands of people.
"Legally, this means their case goes down the toilet," said Lamond Mills, Leavitt's lawyer. "I would expect the U.S. attorney to drop the charges.
"Let them now 'fess up and say it was a mistake," he said.
Siller declined to explain why charges would not be dropped immediately. He defended the FBI's investigation, which was based on an informant's tip and statements made by the suspects, and said it would have been "irresponsible" not to follow up on the allegation.
Leavitt and Harris had, themselves, portrayed the material as dangerous military-grade anthrax, Siller said.
Agents also seized other biological material in Ohio from houses owned by Harris, a former Aryan Nations member. That material was still being tested at Fort Detrick, and those tests will not be completed before Monday.
Harris, 46, pleaded guilty in 1995 to wire fraud after his arrest for obtaining three vials of freeze-dried bubonic plague bacteria through the mail. He was put on 18 months of probation.
Harris and Leavitt were turned in by Ronald Rockwell, whom the FBI portrayed as a "citizen performing his civic duty." Mills called Rockwell a twice-convicted extortionist and scam artist who went to the FBI when a business deal turned sour.