A pharmacist faces a potential life sentence after pleading guilty Thursday to dumping mercury around Albany Medical Center.
EZ Pass records offered compelling evidence that Martin Kimber was in fact the man placing toxic amounts of the heavy metal in various areas through the hospital last year.
The known human neurotoxin was found on four occasions in various areas around the hospital, including on a tray of food being eaten by a female worker in March 2011. Federal investigators who suspected Kimber later accessed his EZ Pass records and determined that the 59-year-old Ulster County resident, who rarely traveled to Albany, had been in the city on each occasion mercury was discovered.
Kimber now faces up to life in prison after admitting he violated two counts of a federal chemical weapons statute prohibiting the possession, stockpiling, or use of a toxic chemical as a weapon. He also admitted to one count of tampering with consumer products during his plea in U.S. District Court in Albany.
“There are honest accidents and there are clear cases of criminal conduct,” William Lometti, a special agent with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, said following Thursday’s plea. “[Kimber’s] action threatened public health and safety and sent an innocent victim to the hospital.”
As part of the agreement, Kimber agreed pay $200,451 in restitution to the Albany Medical Center, forfeit his Lena Lane residence in the town of Ruby and give up his 2007 Pontiac Solstice. He remains jailed awaiting his sentencing at a later date.
Federal prosecutors say Kimber’s ire toward the hospital started about a month after he received treatment there for an unspecified condition in late December 2010. He apparently wrote the hospital to complain about his bill, prompting Albany Med’s associate medical director to write an explanation of the charges.
In the February 2011 response, the director also explained that the outcomes in Kimber’s case were associated with him providing inaccurate information about his injury and his apparent unwillingness to complete the care prescribed by his physician.
About a month after the exchange, employees started discovering visible amounts of mercury in “sundry locations” at hospital.
In late March 2011, emergency response units gathered about two pounds of mercury from the hallway outside the post-operative care unit, the triage window in the emergency room and on the tracks to the elevator door for Building D. About two weeks later, a similar amount of the hazardous material was found in a men’s bathroom and in the hallway near the elevator lobby in Building E.
An additional two pounds of mercury was discovered near a pedestrian ramp near the main lobby, in a corridor exiting Choice Cafe and in a Building A elevator in late June 2011. The discoveries seemed to stop until a female employee eating at the hospital’s cafe noticed a ball of mercury on her food tray in March.
The woman tested positive for the element, but suffered no health problems. That find touched off a careful examination of the cafeteria that reveled traces of mercury in the salad bar, toaster, apple bowl, banana basket, on a table near the coffee station, a cooler for salad dressing, an ice cream freezer and in a container of chicken fingers underneath a heat lamp. Video surveillance cameras captured footage of a suspect that was distributed to the news media. Less than a month later, a tipster said the man in the image was Kimber, a pharmacist who spent nearly a decade working at Vassar Brothers Hospital in Poughkeepsie.
Kimber’s vendetta against the hospital and the subsequent search of his property revealed a pattern of troubling behavior he had been exhibiting for years. Investigators found a swastika on a wall of his home and later uncovered a 2006 check he wrote to the Ulster County Tax Collector with a similar Nazi symbol.
Authorities seized 21 guns, and literature investigators described as “reflecting sympathy for domestic terrorism.” One novel, “The Turner Diaries,” is widely regarded as a propaganda piece for far-right extremists inclined toward violence. A bombing described in the text bears close resemblance to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, an avid promoter of the book by prominent white separatist William Pierce.
Kimber had also exhibited racist tendencies at work and during his incarceration after his arrest, according to court documents. Investigators also found child pornography on his home computer.
U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian credited local and federal investigators for bringing to justice a man who was exhibiting “very dangerous conduct.”
He said alert patients, staff and visitors at the hospital also helped quickly resolve the case.
“Their alertness and professionalism prevented the dire consequences that could have resulted from the defendant’s use of several pounds of mercury as a chemical weapon and contaminating food and food service items at a hospital,” he said in a statement.