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Man accused in body parts case wants new lawyer

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A Feb. 21 trial date for a Grosse Pointe Park man accused of running a business that sold infected body parts on the black market was canceled on Wednesday after the man said he wanted a new lawyer.

Arthur Rathburn is charged with nine counts of wire fraud, three counts of making false statements and one count of transporting hazardous material.

Rathburn was indicted by a grand jury in Detroit in January 2016, which alleges he falsely claimed eight human heads shipped in 2012 had been embalmed, yet human blood was found in the coolers.

Rathburn operated International Biological Inc., which rented out body parts for medical or dental training.

On Wednesday, Rathburn told U.S. District Judge Paul Borman that he “is not happy with his current lawyer” and wants the court to appoint a new one. Borman agreed.

Rathburn’s former attorney, Byron H. Pitts, said he and his client had “a difference of opinion on how the case should go.”

Pitts said there are 30,000 files in the case, with some files having one photograph and other files having hundreds of pages.

“This is a very science-based case,” Pitts said.

Rathburn has rejected plea deals by federal prosecutors.

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, 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Wise has 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.

The trial was expected to take two to three weeks. The government said it plans to call a witness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who had extensive email exchanges regarding concerns over Arthur Rathburn.

JChambers@detroitnews.com