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Former UCLA exec pleads guilty to body trafficking

Saturday, October 18, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- The former chief of UCLA's cadaver program pleaded guilty Friday for his role in selling donated body parts to medical, drug and research companies in a scheme that netted up to $1 million, prosecutors said.

Henry Reid, 58, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court to one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft, with a special allegation that he damaged or destroyed more than $1 million worth of school property, which refers to the donated bodies.

Under a plea agreement, Reid could be sentenced to four years and four months in state prison. He also agreed to cooperate in the trial of a co-defendant and to repay $100,000 to $1 million to the program at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to a statement from the county district attorney's office.

A judge will determine the actual restitution figure, the statement said.

"My client accepted responsibility for the mistake he made concerning his activities as director of the Willed Body Program at UCLA and is extremely remorseful about the situation," his attorney, Melvyn Sacks, said after the hearing. "He deeply regrets the outcome of his actions."

Reid, of Anaheim, could have faced up to 11 years in prison if he had been convicted at trial, Sacks said.

UCLA police chief Karl Ross said he was pleased by the outcome of what he called "an extremely complicated case." He said the investigation involved more than 100 search warrants and took three years.

Prosecutors said Reid sold hundreds of parts of donated bodies between 1999 and 2004 to Ernest Nelson, who operated a business transporting body parts. Nelson then resold them to more than 20 medical, drug and research companies, prosecutors said.

Nelson has said he believed he was acting under the university's authorization when he received the donated torsos. He cut them up and kept the frozen parts in a rented warehouse until they were sold.

The scheme unraveled in 2003 after a state health investigator became concerned about a sale and contacted the university. Reid and Nelson were arrested in 2004, then freed while an investigation continued.

The men eventually were indicted on one count each of conspiracy to commit grand theft and one count each of grand theft and grand theft of personal property. The remaining theft counts against Reid will be dismissed at his Jan. 30 sentencing hearing as part of his plea deal, prosecutors said.

No trial date has been set for Nelson, who pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The scandal prompted a yearlong suspension of the school's cadaver program in 2004 and forced the state college system to examine its donation rules.

The UCLA cadaver program also faced lawsuits in 1996 from relatives of body donors that claimed thousands of donated bodies were illegally disposed, but a state appellate court ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove the allegations.

In 1999, a review of a similar program at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that 320 donated cadavers could not be identified or tracked. The program's director was fired after investigators found he had sold body parts, misappropriated funds and conducted unauthorized autopsies.

UCLA said it instituted new procedures to prevent future abuses, including new donor forms and security and tracking systems for the bodies.


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