Mich. man gets prison in diseased body parts probe
The sale or lease of human remains for research is unusual but mostly legal
By Ed White
DETROIT — A Michigan man who supplied cadavers and body parts for medical training was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in prison for failing to disclose that they were infected with hepatitis or HIV.
Arthur Rathburn expressed no regrets during rambling remarks to a federal judge. He blamed any problems on groups that provided him with bodies and insisted the "bequests were put to great use."
Rathburn, 64, of Grosse Pointe Park, was convicted of fraud and shipping hazardous materials. Investigators say he regularly provided body parts to medical associations for various seminars but didn't tell them that the parts came from people with infectious diseases.
"Mr. Rathburn knew this and chose to profit," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Neal, who wanted a 14-year prison sentence and called the crimes "deplorable."
The sale or lease of human remains for research is unusual but mostly legal. Neal said it's a "very important field" yet "lightly regulated." Rathburn was accused of exposing people to possible infection, although no one became ill.
The government said Biological Resource Center in Illinois and Arizona accepted bodies for research and then made them available to Rathburn, who acted as a broker. Many families have filed lawsuits, saying they were unaware of the arrangement. They also wonder if the cremated remains that were subsequently given to them were genuine.
At trial, an FBI agent who was involved in a 2014 raid at Rathburn's Detroit warehouse said she saw body parts stored in drums, blood stains on the floor and piles of dead flies. Heads and body parts were frozen together.
A juror who saw pictures asked for counseling and was eventually excused.
Defense lawyers said the case should have been treated as a contract dispute between Rathburn and his customers, not a crime.
Rathburn spoke for nearly an hour Tuesday but conceded nothing. He said his Detroit lab was "perfect," and he denied using a chain saw to cut bodies.
"We have 10,000 diseases in this world. We know how to treat 500 of them. The rest need to be studied," Rathburn told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.
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