Local prosecutors, frustrated by five anthrax scares in the last week that have scared, angered or inconvenienced thousands, say they will recommend federal charges that carry life sentences in prison for anyone caught making the threats.
State and federal prosecutors talked Friday after two anthrax threats temporarily closed a Niagara County high school and an East Aurora supermarket.
Anyone using public anxiety over anthrax and other biological or chemical weapons to pull pranks takes a big risk -- up to life in prison, Buffalo FBI spokesman Paul Moskal said.
"The FBI takes this very seriously," Moskal said.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said he will recommend federal prosecution for anyone arrested for making the threats. "I wouldn't hesitate for a New York minute," Clark said.
Clark and Matthew J. Murphy III, Niagara County's district attorney, also said they would recommend that state lawmakers upgrade state charges that now only carry terms of three months in jail for making the threats.
Two Newfane students were arrested in Friday's threat at the school, the first arrests since the threats started last November at a Cheektowaga church. The students, 14 and 15, appeared Friday before Niagara County Family Court Judge John Batt, who released them to their parents with the stipulation they be on electronic monitoring.
Hazardous response crews set up a portable decontamination unit in a door at Newfane High School, and four school officials were ready to be hosed down Friday, until the two confessed.
In East Aurora, 10 workers at Jubilee Foods, including a bread deliveryman, had to go through decontamination showers after a worker found a letter stuck in a back door that claimed it was contaminated with anthrax.
Anthrax, caused by a bacterium that became more widely known after Iraq admitted to producing it for warfare, is an acute, infectious disease usually found in warm-blooded animals. It's almost always fatal for those not treated immediately with antibiotics.
The threats Friday became the fourth and fifth anthrax scares in a week in Western New York, part of a wave of hundreds of such alarms across the country.
Also threatened and forced to undergo decontamination were workers at the West Seneca Town Hall, U.S. Justice Department downtown, the Iroquois Middle School, and Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church in Cheektowaga.
There has yet to be any anthrax found anywhere in the nation from the threats.
But in each instance, hazardous materials crews had to respond as if every phone call threatening exposure was the real thing, as if each letter that said it contained anthrax actually did.
The cost is climbing into the thousands of dollars locally alone, as each call starts a long expensive decontamination process that includes teams of medical doctors and hazardous material crews.