Schenectady County

No bioterrorism evidence found at site probed by local, federal agents (with photos)

An intense investigation into possible anthrax led to a portion of Congress Street being closed for
PHOTOGRAPHER:

An intense investigation into possible anthrax led to a portion of Congress Street being closed for much of Friday as FBI, state and local authorities sifted to mounds of material, authorities said.

But, after the day-long investigation, preliminary tests on items from the site, the New York Surplus Auction near Broadway, came back negative for any biological agents, county officials said.

Emergency Management Director Tom Constantine said he was told that the preliminary tests showed none of the agent authorities were looking for.

Meanwhile, the owner of the auction house, Les Plaine, said Friday evening he was contacted by the FBI after they were led there by an investigation into possible anthrax.

The FBI found, elsewhere, a vial labeled “anthrax vaccine,” he said.

“That led them to my place. They called me, asked me if I could run a computer report for them of my customers. I did.”

He also consented to a search of all trash on his site. He said the FBI told him they had a lead that anthrax might have been thrown into his garbage at his auction house.

“They went through it, piece by piece,” he said.

They even searched through his panel truck, where he had tossed some trash because his Dumpster was full.

“They came up empty.”

He said the vaccine was described to him as a homeopathic vaccine for anthrax, which can be bought online.

Tom Jensen was the FBI taskforce officer for the operation.

Schenectady Police directed calls to the FBI. Officials there did not return calls for comment.

Plaine said he did not know where the vial was found or what led the FBI to his business.

The investigation had Congress Street from Broadway to Bailey Street closed most of the day as investigators worked behind the business.

Men in white hazardous materials suits searched through garbage behind the business into the afternoon. At one point, two men were in a dumpster, examining pieces and tossing them aside. Other pieces were placed in plastic bags.

Other investigators walked around the site without the suits. A nearby Dunkin Donuts stayed open. The Congress Street bridge over the railroad tracks, while closed to traffic, was still open for pedestrians. The bridge also provided a direct view of the work site.

Also on scene were Schenectady Fire Department officials, and an ambulance.

Many pedestrians came and went on the railroad bridge through the afternoon, wondering exactly what was happening.

Plaine renovated the building behind the Dunkin’ Donuts on Congress Street several years ago and has operated the auction house there for the past two years. He has also built a cyclocross bike trail in the ravine behind the store.

Plaine said he was taken by surprise by the entire operation, which began last night when someone found the labeled vial and called the FBI. He was relieved that no anthrax was found — and was left feeling far safer than ever before.

“Although it was not a great situation, it had a happy ending,” he said. “I was happy to know how thorough the people that protect us are. That put my mind at ease.”

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