Seller of tainted body parts sentenced to 9 years
A former Grosse Pointe Park body parts dealer was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in federal prison for selling and renting body parts infected with HIV and hepatitis to unsuspecting buyers at medical and dental schools across the country.
Arthur Rathburn, 64, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman after a two-day hearing.
Borman told Rathburn his crime was a "serious offense," adding: "There is a need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense."
The judge ordered a $761,000 judgment against Rathburn, who is bankrupt, according to his taxpayer-funded lawyers. The forfeiture amount reflects the money Rathburn allegedly made from selling the infected body parts.
Rathburn was convicted of being the organizer of a fraudulent scheme in which he rented or sold infected bodies to unsuspecting buyers at medical and dental school as well as professional medical organizations.
Federal prosecutors said he provided cadavers for 142 training courses from the late 1990s through 2013. Some of those cadavers were from donors who had HIV or Hepatitis B and C. Rathburn "lied" to customers about the condition of the bodies through his contracts with them, which had indicated the bodies would be tested or screened for the communicable diseases.
Before being sentenced by Borman, Rathburn gave a 50-minute statement to the judge in long and sometimes-rambling sentences in which he blamed his body suppliers for giving him HIV and hepatitis-infected bodies. He said he received bodies that were mistagged and did not indicate they were infected.
Later, Rathburn said his staffers erroneously sent out bodies that were diseased.
Borman asked Rathburn three times if he wanted to ask him what kind of sentence he should get, but the scientist ignored the judge and continued on with his lengthy explanation about how, he said, his troubles began with his company, International Biological Inc. on Detroit's east side.
Federal investigators described a grisly and gruesome scene at Rathburn's lab where, they said, human heads and other body parts were stored in Tupperware and Rubbermaid containers and 55-gallon drums. Bodies were allegedly frozen skin to skin and “piles” of body parts were frozen together. Some of the bodies were missing arms and legs, investigators said.
Rathburn apologized to the families of those whose donated bodies ended up at his lab on Detroit's eastside.
"To the families that are here today, every individual I can assure was used to the best of our abilities," said Rathburn, who called their body donations "gifts" for scientific research.
Rathburn said while "I understand how some of you thought this (case) was barbaric. This was necessary."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Neal had asked Borman to sentence Rathburn at the top of the sentence guideline, which was 14 years.
"This was an exceptionally serious offense," Neal told the judge Tuesday before the sentence was handed down to Rathburn. ""This was an intentional and repeated offense. This was not a one-time error."
Neal said Rathburn "knowingly provided bodies to end users" that were infected with HIV and sometimes hepatitis but lied about it in order to get the customers to buy them. The federal prosecutor added that Rathburn exposed the customers and others to the risk of communicable diseases.
Neal said he hopes the sentence would send a message to any other individuals who choose to operate their businesses like Rathburn.
Neal said while scientific research is a "very necessary, very important" field, it is lightly regulated and that "one hopes that there are not many unscrupulous individuals like Arthur Rathburn operating" within it.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider slammed Rathburn's actions.
“We hope this sentence brings closure to the victims of Arthur Rathburn,” Schneider said. “Rathburn’s disgraceful conduct not only put the health of innocent people at risk, he showed a complete lack of regard for the donors and their families, who are all victims.”
Rathburn's co-counsel Jim Howarth said while he is isn't "suggesting" that Borman's sentence was unfair, he wanted to see his client do "much less time" and even be freed from prison on the 26 months Rathburn has already served.
"I felt Mr. Rathburn has done enough time," Howarth said after the sentencing. "Mr. Rathburn feels ...that he didn't do anything wrong."
Howarth said because the case dealt with HIV and hepatitis there was a "fear factor" involved and that fear was "very difficult to appeal to."