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Genetics Expert Charged With Molestation in Md.

1980s Case Covers Time Scientist Worked at NIH

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page A02

A pioneering genetic scientist who formerly worked at the National Institutes of Health has been charged by Montgomery County authorities with molesting a 12-year-old Silver Spring boy 20 years ago.

W. French Anderson, 68, who became known in the United States as the father of gene therapy, was arrested Wednesday at his home in San Marino, Calif., on charges of abusing the boy between September 1983 and September 1985.

Gene therapy pioneer W. French Anderson walks to a Los Angeles County sheriff's bus after his arraignment in August on charges of sexually molesting a girl. (2004 Photo Walt Mancini -- Pasadena Star-news Via AP)

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The victim, now 34, came forward with the allegations after he learned that Anderson had been charged last summer with molesting the teenage daughter of a colleague at the University of Southern California, where he headed the school's Gene Therapy Laboratories, authorities said. Anderson, who has a fifth-degree black belt in taekwondo, befriended both children while teaching them martial arts and engaged in sexual activity with them during private taekwondo classes in his home, authorities said. The claims were made years after the alleged acts occurred.

"It's not unusual in cases involving child abuse for people to come forward as adults for the first time regarding the allegations," Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said yesterday. "What often can happen is another person comes forward, and that will bring other victims out of the woodwork."

Anderson was held without bail yesterday at the inmate reception center in Los Angeles pending court hearings on the new charges, according to Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

Anderson's attorney, Barry Tarlow, did not return a call seeking comment.

Anderson, a Tulsa native educated at Harvard and Cambridge universities, was a leader in the effort to treat disease by removing, genetically modifying and reimplanting cells in patients' bodies. He joined the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in July 1965, headed the first gene therapy experiment in the United States in 1990 and took over the Gene Therapy Laboratories at USC after leaving the NIH in September 1992. His wife, Kathryn, whom he met while they were studying medicine at Cambridge, retired in July as chief of surgery at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. The couple, who married in 1961, have no children.

"People used to call me a preacher's son," Anderson told The Washington Post Magazine in a 1991 profile, "because I didn't curse. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. I wasn't interested in sex. I was only interested in science."

In July, Anderson was charged by California authorities for allegedly abusing a girl during martial arts classes in his home over a nearly five-year period beginning in January 1997 when the girl was 10 years old. He was placed on administrative leave by USC after his arrest and remained free on $600,000 bail.

The alleged Maryland victim learned of Anderson's arrest from a family friend who had read about it, and he approached Montgomery County authorities in September, Montgomery police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said.

The man told police that Anderson was an assistant instructor at the National AAU Taekwondo Union martial arts facility in Silver Spring when the victim attended the school, authorities said. Anderson then began offering private tutoring sessions at his home on Melody Lane in Bethesda, police said.

Documents filed in District Court in Rockville say Anderson gave the boy alcohol, showed him pornography and performed sex acts with him. On one occasion, the doctor obtained a sample of the boy's sperm and showed it to him under a microscope, the court documents say.

In an effort to corroborate the charges, investigators said, the victim was asked to contact Anderson by telephone while the call was being recorded. Court documents say Anderson told the victim that he did not remember or had repressed memories of sexual activity and urged the victim to tell police that nothing happened.

Anderson was charged with child abuse, second- and third-degree sex offenses and unnatural and perverted sex practices.

Staff writer Katherine Shaver and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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