Businessman who made millions selling cadavers gets 9 years in prison after they were found to be infected with HIV and Hepatitis
A Detroit “body broker” who made millions selling and leasing out human body parts was sentenced on Tuesday to nine years in prison for selling diseased remains infected with HIV and Hepatitis to medical educators.
Prosecutors said that 64-year-old Arthur Rathburn earned $13 million by selling or leasing human remains that had been donated to science from 1997 to 2013.
According to court documents, Rathburn purchased the body parts from Arizona and Illinois suppliers, and stored them in Detroit.
He then rented them out to medical and dental researchers with the help of his ex-wife, Elizabeth Rathburn.
She pleaded guilty to wire fraud early on in the case, testified against her husband and got probation
Reuters reports that Rathburn is the third and most significant person convicted as part of a nation-wide investigation into the largely unregulated market for body parts in the United States launched by the FBI.
During a trial in January, an FBI agent testified that Rathburn showed little to no respect for the dead and that parts from various donors were found “frozen together in flesh-on-flesh chunks."
Federal agents also uncovered four preserved fetuses in December 2013, when they raided a warehouse owned by Rathburn.
The FBI also opened investigations into other body brokers in Illinois, Oregon and Colorado. Search warrants have been issued in each of those cases.
Steve Gore, who was one of the couples' suppliers, was also convicted of fraud earlier. He too pleaded guilty and testified against Rathburn and was sentenced to probation.
Gore ran the Phoenix-based Biological Resource Center, which sold more than 20,000 parts from some 5,000 human bodies over a decade before closing in 2014.
The 64-year-old businessman did not testify at the trial. He did, however, speak during the sentencing hearing, making his first public comments since his arrest in 2016.
In a rambling statement, Rathburn denied all allegations that he intentionally misled his customers. He blamed the mistakes on his suppliers and others. Rathburn’s speech portrayed his lab as “clean, perfect” and himself as a visionary in the field, a scientist “ahead of his time.”
“I know how some of you thought this was barbaric,” Rathburn said of the body parts trade. “I can understand your point of view, but this was necessary.”
Assistant US Attorney John Neal said the body broker’s comments showed he had no remorse for his crimes.
“Mr Rathburn has learned nothing from this experience. If permitted to leave prison any time soon, he will commit fraud again,” Neal said. “Mr Rathburn believes he can talk his way out of anything.”
US law governs only body parts intended for transplantation, such as hearts and livers, and therefore Rathburn was not prosecuted for his improper treatment of human remains or for defrauding customers and violating hazardous shipping laws.
But he was convicted for selling infected parts to unsuspecting researchers.
According to government statistics, Rathburn made his millions by supplying unwitting medical educators with body parts infected with HIV or hepatitis at least 120 times from 1997 to 2013.
His intentional concealment of the highly contagious nature of the “product” he was supplying makes this a serious case of fraud.
Tracy Smolka of Kankakee, Illinois is among those whose dead relatives had their bodies donated to science and ended up in Rathburn’s warehouse.
Smolka’s father, Randolph Wright, died in 2010. The FBI found her father’s head sitting in Rathburn’s freezer nearly three years later.
Talking to the Free Press Smolka said, "Art Rathburn bought my father's head for $500," adding that her father's torso was sold for another $2,900 as part of Rathburn's scheme.
When Smolka faced Rathburn for the first time in court. “I hope you burn in hell,” she told him. “And when you get there, make sure to tell the devil I sent you.”