A husband and wife from Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, have been charged in an indictment with wire fraud, transportation of hazardous material, and false statements in an alleged scheme involving the distribution of body parts, some that tested positive for diseases, including HIV and hepatitis, announced United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade.
McQuade was joined in the announcement by Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Detroit Division; Regional Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas J. Ullom, U.S. Department of Transportation - Office of Inspector General; Officer in Charge Elizabeth Harton of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Global Migration & Quarantine and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
Indicted were Arthur Rathburn, 62 and Elizabeth Rathburn, 55. The indictment was unsealed today upon the arrest of the defendants.
As alleged in the 13-count indictment, Arthur Rathburn and Elizabeth Rathburn were the owners and operators of International Biological, Inc. (“IBI”). IBI’s primary function was renting human body parts, such as heads and torsos, to customers who used the remains for medical or dental training. The Rathburns participated in a scheme to defraud in which IBI obtained donated bodies and body parts from suppliers, which IBI would then typically dismember and rent out to customers for medical or dental training. Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn knew that the donors of a number of these bodies had died of an infectious disease, or that the bodies had tested positive for an infectious disease. IBI sometimes obtained diseased remains from their suppliers at a reduced cost, due to the fact that end users of human remains generally reject infectious bodies and body parts for use in medical or dental training.
It was part of the scheme that the Rathburns would provide human remains to IBI’s customers, falsely representing to those customers that the remains were free of certain infectious diseases. The Rathburns were aware that IBI’s customers would not accept remains infected with certain diseases. The scheme included directly profiting from infectious remains supplied to unwitting customers in violation of contractual agreements and failing to disclose to customers that IBI ignored industry standard precautions to prevent potential cross-contamination between infectious and non-infectious remains.
The indictment further alleges that Arthur Rathburn willfully caused to be delivered hazardous material regulated by the Department of Transportation, namely a human head of an individual known to have died from bacterial sepsis and aspiration pneumonia, to Delta Cargo, an air carrier, for transportation in air commerce in violation of federal regulations. In violation of these regulations, the human head was packaged in a trash bag placed within a camping cooler. Seven other human heads were also part of the shipment and packed in the same manner. Large quantities of liquid blood were found within the coolers. Furthermore, Arthur Rathburn was charged with making three false statements connected to this shipment.
“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. “The alleged conduct risked the health of medical students, dental students and baggage handlers.”
“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 David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Detroit Division. “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. We continue to work with our state and federal partners to conduct a full and rigorous investigation. And, while all of our partnerships on this case have been valuable, special thanks is due to the staff of the CDC’s Detroit Quarantine Station, without whose extensive help, this investigation would have been greatly hampered."
Martin S. Cetron, MD, Director, Division of Global Migration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, "The CDC is pleased to have provided its technical assistance on public health concerns related to the safe handling, packaging, and import of human remains that pose a potential threat to human health. U.S. quarantine stations are part of a comprehensive system that serves to limit the introduction and spread of infectious diseases into the United States. We continue to support our law enforcement partners, other federal agencies, and state and local entities on this important public health matter."
“The indictment brought against Arthur Rathburn and Elizabeth Rathburn for allegations related to wire fraud, transportation of HAZMAT, and false statements demonstrates that ensuring the safety of the Nation’s transportation system remains a high priority for the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,” said Thomas J. Ullom, DOT OIG Regional Special Agent-in-Charge. “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue our efforts to uncover illicit hazardous materials shipments, whether that be body parts with infectious diseases or otherwise, and prevent their use and punish those who seek to compromise the integrity of DOT’s safety program.”
"These federal indictments are a significant step in our pursuit of justice for donors' families and medical staff affected by these despicable acts," said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. "Last month, Arizona successfully convicted a defendant involved in this multi-state investigation. Our team will continue to work with the Department of Justice to ensure that everyone involved in these illegal acts is appropriately prosecuted."
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed not guilty unless convicted at trial by a jury.
If convicted, the Rathburns face a maximum statutory penalty of twenty years in prison for each of nine counts of wire fraud. Arthur Rathburn also faces a maximum of five years in prison for one charge of Transporting Hazardous Material under 49 U.S.C. §463 and a maximum of five years in prison for each of three counts charging him with making false statements to the United States Government.
The investigation in this case was handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations. Special thanks are also due to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office for their critical assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John K. Neal and Timothy J. Wyse.