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Dealer in body-parts case rejects plea deal

Jennifer Chambers
DetroitNews-Unknown

A Grosse Pointe Park man accused of running a business that sold infected body parts on the black market has rejected a plea deal from prosecutors and will go to trial on criminal charges in February.

Arthur Rathburn is charged with nine counts of wire fraud, three charges of making false statements and one charge of transporting hazardous material. He was indicted by a grand jury in Detroit in January, which alleges he falsely claimed eight human heads shipped in 2012 had been embalmed, yet human blood was found in the coolers.

Rathburn, who appeared in federal court on Thursday in Detroit, operated International Biological Inc., which rented out body parts for medical or dental training.

He has a Feb. 21 trial date before U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

In October, Borman refused to throw out evidence against Rathburn who challenged searches of his warehouse at 8640 Grinnell in Detroit.

Federal agents say they searched the Grinnell warehouse Dec. 6, 2013, as part of a nationwide multiyear investigation into certain so-called “Body Brokers,” which allegedly buy and sell human cadavers, body parts and tissue.

His wife, 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. Her sentencing has been delayed because she will be a government witness at her husband’s trial.

Rathburn faces 20 years in prison on each count. He is in federal detention in Milan.

On Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Wise said the government offered Rathburn a deal to plead guilty to counts one, two, three and 10 in the indictment. Sentencing guidelines would have been between 78 and 97 months, Wise said.

Borman told Rathburn that the court can go higher or lower than the guidelines and there were no mandatory minimums in the case.

“Do you understand that?” Borman asked Rathburn.

Sitting at the defense table in jail clothes, Ratburn said yes.

The trial is expected to take two to three weeks. The government is calling a witness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who had extensive email exchanges regarding concerns over Arthur Rathburn, Wise said.

Defense attorney Byron Pitts said Rathburn maintains his innocence.

“Why would an innocent man take a plea?” Pitts said Thursday outside court.

JChambers@detroitnews.com