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Couple is charged with selling infected body parts

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A Michigan couple accused of renting and selling human body parts infected with diseases to medical professionals brought an infected cadaver head and neck to a periodontal conference held at a Cambridge hotel in 2011, according to a federal indictment.

Arthur Rathburn and Elizabeth Rathburn, who live in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Point Park, were indicted on Friday in federal court in Detroit and charged with nine counts of wire fraud, authorities said.

The husband and wife team ran International Biological Inc., a business that procured human body parts to sell or rent to professionals training in the medical and dental fields. At times, the couple paid a discount rate for infected cadavers, then passed them off to unsuspecting customers, according to the 18-page indictment.


"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," said Barbara McQuade, US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, in a statement. "The alleged conduct risked the health of medical students, dental students, and baggage handlers."

In March, 2011, the couple is alleged to have brought a head and neck infected with hepatitis B to a conference called "Advancements in Periodontology" that was held at a Cambridge hotel, the indictment states.

The indictment also alleges the couple used unsanitary practices and improper instruments, including a chain saw, to dismember cadavers.

"Instead of using industry-standard, sterilized autopsy equipment," Rathburn "used a chain saw, band saw, and reciprocating saw to dismember bodies without taking sanitary precautions," the indictment said.

The human heads were also stacked "directly on top of each other without any protective barrier," the indictment states.

The Rathburns also knowingly provided a cadaver infected with HIV and hepatitis B to a meeting of the American Association of Anesthesiologists in Washington, D.C., the indictment states.


The indictment also alleges the Rathburns shipped infected and dismembered bodies on commercial flights, a violation of both airline polices and regulations of the federal transportation department.

In one instance, the company shipped the head of a person who had died from sepsis and aspiration pneumonia via Delta Cargo in a trash bag within a camping cooler along with seven other heads.

According to the indictment, the Rathburns obtained most of the bodies from the Illinois-based companies Anatomical Services Inc. and the Biological Resource Center of Illinois. In turn, those two companies obtained most of the bodies from the Arizona-based Biological Resource Center.

The Rathburns face up to 20 years in prison for each of the nine wire fraud charges, according to McQuade's statement. Arthur Rathburn also faces one charge of transporting hazardous material and three counts of making false statements to the government, each of which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

The Rathburns, a spokeswoman for McQuade, and the assistant US attorney who worked on the indictment could not immediately be reached for comment.

Nicole Fleming can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.