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Pointes man faces scrutiny in alleged body parts sales

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Grosse Pointe Park businessman is under investigation by the FBI for his involvement in an alleged black-market scheme that sold body parts worldwide, according to federal court records.

The alleged scheme is outlined in a recently unsealed federal search warrant affidavit that describes a wide-ranging investigation in Michigan, Illinois and Arizona.

Federal court records offer insight into a grisly case involving a shadowy black market where whole bodies sell for $5,000, heads for $500 and arms for $750. The case centers on so-called "body brokers," individuals and businesses that buy and sell human bodies, organs and tissues donated for medical education and research.

According to court records, the FBI and other federal agencies are investigating brokers who allegedly defrauded donors about how bodies would be used, sold body parts that were infected with HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and lied to investigators.

The affidavit was unsealed earlier this month in a Chicago federal court more than a year after agents raided Grosse Pointe Park businessman Arthur Rathburn's home and business, International Biological Inc.

Rathburn, 61, could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment about the case but said nobody has been charged with a crime during the ongoing investigation.

During a December 2013 raid of Rathburn's home and office, investigators seized thousands of human body parts and boxes of records, according to the search warrant affidavit.

The records linked his company to two body part suppliers: Anatomical Service Inc. and Biological Resource Center of Illinois.

According to investigators, bodies were used in contradiction of the will of donors and their next of kin and the donors were misled by Biological Resource Center of Illinois.

The mother of one donor was told that her son's tissue would be donated to places such as colleges and research centers. She was led to believe that her son's body would not be sold. Yet her son's body was sold in September 2013 to Rathburn's company for $5,000, according to the affidavit.

The body was dismembered and pieces were used in an international teaching course, investigators alleged. Agents seized the son's head, legs and left shoulder during a raid of Rathburn's company in December 2013.

Last year, 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. New York also yanked a license for a human tissue bank. It said Rathburn's company disposed of tissue in a dangerous manner.

M. David Weisman, attorney for Biological Resource Center of Illinois, said the company was cooperating with the investigation, and that its practices were in line with industry standards.