DETROIT (WWJ) – A Grosse Pointe Park husband and wife face multiple charges in connection with a fraud scheme involving the distribution of human body parts.
Arthur Rathburn, 62, and Elizabeth Rathburn, 55, are accused, in an indictment unsealed Friday, of dismembering diseased bodies and then renting out the parts — including heads and torsos — for medical or dental training.
According to U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, the couple worked as cadaver dealers, obtaining donated bodies through deceit and then distributing them while ignoring industry standard precautions.
Some of the parts, McQuade said, tested positive for diseases, including HIV and hepatitis.
The Rathburns are accused of fraud for failing to inform medical groups on at least three occasions about diseased parts. Arthur Rathburn also is charged with making false statements and transporting hazardous materials.
“This alleged scheme to distribute diseased body parts not only defrauded customers from the monetary value of their contracts, but also exposed them and others to infection,” McQuade said, in a statement. “The alleged conduct risked the health of medical students, dental students and baggage handlers.”
As alleged in the 13-count indictment, the Rathburns owned and operated a company called International Biological, Inc. (“IBI”) which obtained diseased remains from their suppliers at a reduced cost and then supplied the infectious parts to unwitting customers in violation of contractual agreements.
Arthur Rathburn, it’s alleged, didn’t use industry standard equipment, but instead used a chainsaw to dismember the bodies, and then stacked diseased human heads on top of other heads, disregarding any risk of cross-contamination.
In one 2012 instance, the indictment details, he allegedly shipped, on a Delta cargo plane, an infected head wrapped in a garbage bag and packed in a camping cooler, falsely claiming it had been embalmed. Seven other human heads, along with large quantities of blood, were also part of the shipment and packed in the same unsafe and illegal manner, according to the indictment.
“There are hazardous safety rules that are on the books to make sure that everybody is protected when shipments are made,” McQuade told WWJ’s Sandra McNeill. “And by violating those regulations, certainly people were put at risk.”
McQuade explained Elizabeth Rathburn’s role in the scheme that went on for six years.
“She was not at the warehouse cutting bodies as Arthur Rathburn was, but she was involved in many of the counts of wire fraud, which involved sending faxes, sending emails, sending payments,” McQuade said.
The wife fraud charge alone carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, and Arthur Rathburn could potentially face even more.
The pair was scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon.
Meantime, David Gelios, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Detroit Division, says an investigation is ongoing.
“These indictments represent one step in the FBI’s larger investigation into violations of federal law by individuals working within the poorly regulated willed-body-to-science industry,” said Gelios said. “We recognize that thousands of donor families, medical doctors and affiliated personnel across the country have been adversely affected by these illegal acts. This investigation does not stop here.”