Body-parts seller's sentencing resumes Tuesday

Autopsy bays at the Wayne County Morgue.

Grosse Pointe resident Arthur Rathburn switched tags on cremated body parts, meaning the families of individuals who had donated their bodies for scientific research could not be certain that the remains they received were of their loved ones, an FBI special agent testified Monday during Rathburn's sentencing hearing.

Rathburn, who was convicted in January for selling and renting out body parts infected with HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, could get 11-14 years behind bars when he is  sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.

The sentencing hearing resumes at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

 Rathburn's attorneys said late Monday that they are discussing with their client whether he wants to testify.

Among those speaking during Rathburn's hearing were people who donated family members' bodies, which were sold or rented to medical facilities for students' course work.

One of those was Tracy Smolka, who told Rathburn that she hopes he will "rot in hell" for "desecrating" the body of her father, Randolph Wright, who died in 2010 after suffering from ALS.

"You are disgusting, vile, reprehensible. You obviously have no shame," said Smolka, of Kankakee, Illinois. "I hope you rot in hell. Make sure you tell the devil I sent you."

Smolka said her father's head was sold by Rathburn and now she doesn't know if the cremated remains she and her mother received from a supplier of Rathburn's are really her father's.

David Bradford, the widower of Stephanie Bradford, told the judge he is traumatized by what happened to her remains when they were handled by Rathburn's company.

"I couldn't protect her from what has happened here," said Bradford. "This is really bad for me medically. It's really wrong what happened to my wife -- her body."

Borman told Bradford: "You are a strong man."

Rathburn's company, International Biological Inc., on Detroit's east side, was raided by authorities, including the FBI, in December 2013.

The search followed a wide-reaching, multi-year investigation involving fraud and transportation of hazardous materials and false statements in a scheme involving the distribution of body parts, some of which tested positive for HIV as well as Hepatitis B and C while misleading those who bought the body parts for medical training.

Authorities said Rathburn and his wife, Elizabeth, knew that the donors of some of the bodies had died of an infectious disease and that the couple did not make customers aware of it.

Elizabeth Rathburn pleaded guilty to wire fraud in March 2016. She admitted to providing customers with body parts she told them were not diseased while knowing the bodies they came from had tested positive for Hepatitis B and HIV. She was sentenced to two years probation in March.

Arthur Rathburn stored body parts in a filthy warehouse and sold medical firms and schools body parts that were diseased without telling his customers.

The FBI agent who testified Monday, Paul Johnson, said medical experts told him they would not have purchased the body parts if they were made aware of the infections.

Also testifying Monday was David Evans, a professor in pathology and lab medicine at the University of Wisconsin, who said infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B can survive in a cadaver.

He said freezing bodies protects the virus and allows it to survive. Evans said a virus could "remain potentially" infectious and could spread the virus to a living person if precautions are not taken.

 Viruses could be spread if bodily fluids or an infectious agent gets in a person's eye by inadvertent splashing, a cut or contamination on a surface, he testified.

Under cross-examination by defense co-counsel Craig Daly, Evans said the extent to how infectious the virus is would depend on several factors, including the type of virus and the time between a person's death and the exposure of other individuals to the body.

Evans, said however, that viruses could be spread through cadavers.

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