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Man accused of selling body parts sent to Milan prison

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Grosse Pointe Park man accused of running a business that sold infected body parts on the black market will be moved from Midland County Jail to the federal prison in Milan, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Arthur Rathburn’s attorney, Byron Pitts had pushed for him to be released until his trial begins. With some 33,000 documents to review, many dealing with infectious diseases and other scientific matters, Pitts said he could use his client’s expertise in fighting the charges, that include nine counts of wire fraud, three charges of making false statements, and one charge of transporting hazardous material.

If convicted on all counts, Rathburn could face 200 years in prison.

Pitts said the distance between Detroit and Midland made it difficult to meet with his client regularly, and that having him in Milan would help.

“Getting there takes two hours, and getting back takes two hours,” Pitts said after the hearing. “By that time, I could’ve been in Chicago. Being an hour apart is much better.”

Pitts also cited Rathburn’s medical condition, severe arthritis, as a reason he should be free from custody during the trial. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman disagreed.

“There is a need for required detention in this case,” Borman said. “I feel (Rathburn) is a danger to his co-defendant,” by which he meant Rathburn’s wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Rathburn pleaded to one count of wire fraud in March. She will pay more than $55,000 in restitution and could serve four to 10 months in prison. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office previously said that she would have to testify to her role in the alleged scheme.

The Rathburns are accused of being involved in a black market where whole bodies sold for $5,000, heads for $500 and arms for $750. The 13-count indictment the Rathburns face results from a Dec. 2013 federal raid of the couple’s home and business, during which thousands of human body parts and boxes of records were seized.

In 2014, the state of Michigan suspended Rathburn’s mortuary license, alleging he embalmed bodies at a Detroit address that didn’t have a funeral home license.

Arthur Rathburn allegedly dismembered bodies with a chainsaw, band saw and reciprocating saw “without using sanitary precautions,” according to the federal indictment. He then allegedly stored human heads by stacking them on top of each other without using protective measures.

jdickson@detroitnews.com