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November 29th, 2011
03:39 PM ET

Family of 2001 anthrax victim settles with government

The family of the first victim to die in the 2001 anthrax attacks will get $2.5 million from the U.S. government under a settlement reached last week, according to court documents.

Bob Stevens, 63, worked as a photo editor for American Media Inc. and was the first of five deaths from the attacks. He died October 5, 2001, after inhaling anthrax that investigators believe was in a letter sent to American Media, the publisher of the Sun and National Enquirer tabloids, at its offices in Boca Raton, Florida.

The FBI eventually blamed the attacks on a civilian scientist at the Army's biological research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The suspect, microbiologist Bruce Ivins, had a history of mental illness and killed himself in 2008 before investigators brought charges against him, federal prosecutors said.

Stevens' family sued the government for $50 million in 2003, arguing that the military laboratory in Maryland that was identified as the source of the bacterium should have had tighter security.

A settlement notice dated November 23 was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

A separate stipulation of settlement document filed with the court said the government admitted no blame in the case. It also said attorneys fees owed by the Stevens family would come out of the settlement money, at no more than 25% of the total.

On October 31, the lawyer for Stevens' family said a settlement had been reached but that final details had to be worked out with the Justice Department.

"I think the family was vindicated that the government has agreed to settle the case with them in spite of the fact that they put up a lot of roadblocks," the lawyer, Richard Schuler, said in October.

Stevens and his wife, Maureen, were married 27 years, and there is "still a hole in her life as far as her husband is concerned," Schuler said then.

"It's a horrible, painful death, that they had to witness their loved one go through," Schuler said. "It's something that they'll never forget."

A February report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the FBI's evidence was "consistent with" the government's findings that the anthrax spores used in the attack came from Ivin's lab, but it could not reach a "definitive conclusion" based on the scientific evidence alone.

But the FBI and the Justice Department stand by their findings, saying that scientific testing gave agents "valuable investigative leads" that led them to Ivins.

The CNN Presents investigation "Death by Mail: The Anthrax Letters" revealed that since the 2001 anthrax letters the federal government has spent $19 billion to fight the threat of biological attacks. More than a thousand new labs have since opened to research so-called "special agents" and the government now counts nearly 15,000 workers handling germs such as Ebola, plague, and anthrax - about twice as many as before the anthrax letters.

Given the heightened concerns over the threat of a rogue insider, the FBI now checks potential workers for felonies and ties to terror groups. But proposed reforms like psychological screening or requiring two people in labs have gone nowhere, with scientists who have reviewed the issue calling those proposals intrusive, expensive and impractical.

Filed under: Anthrax • Bruce Ivins • Joe Johns
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