DETROIT (WWJ/AP) — A Detroit-area woman has pleaded guilty to fraud, admitting she falsely told a customer that human remains used for medical training were free of infectious diseases.

The government says Arthur Rathburn and estranged wife Elizabeth Rathburn of Grosse Pointe Park operated International Biological Inc., which rented out body parts for medical or dental training.

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Elizabeth Rathburn struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty Monday to wire fraud. She didn’t disclose that remains provided for a 2012 meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists had tested positive for hepatitis B and HIV.

Elizabeth Rathburn faces less than a year in prison but cooperation with prosecutors could get her a better sentence on July 18. Arthur Rathburn is charged with fraud and making false statements. Their divorce is pending.

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.

[View a copy of the indictment]

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 st statement. “The alleged conduct risked the health of medical students, dental students and baggage handlers.”

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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.

 

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