The body broker collected $1.5 million by selling cadaver parts to private medical research companies. A juror also faults the university for ‘allowing something like this.’
A businessman accused of selling human body parts donated to UCLA’s medical school in a scandal that tarnished the reputation of the university’s willed-body program was found guilty Thursday of conspiring to commit grand theft, embezzlement and tax evasion .
Los Angeles County prosecutors said Ernest V. Nelson, 51, cut up heads, torsos and other parts from donated corpses and sold them without UCLA’s permission to medical and pharmaceutical research companies, collecting $1.5 million between 1999 and 2003.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 17, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Body-parts seller: An article in Friday’s Section A about the conviction of Ernest V. Nelson for his role in selling body parts from UCLA’s willed-body program said he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He faces up to 12 years.
Prosecutors said Nelson hatched the scheme with the director of the willed-body program, Henry Reid, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to commit theft. Reid received checks from Nelson totaling $43,000 in return for giving him access to the bodies, prosecutors said. Other payments were allegedly made in cash.
Prosecutors said Nelson acted as the middleman, selling hundreds of body parts to various research companies around the country, including pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. The conspiracy was uncovered when a state health investigator grew suspicious that Nelson was fraudulently claiming that the parts had been screened for infectious diseases before selling them.
“This was a man for whom money was more important than the safety of doctors and other medical technicians,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marisa Zarate, one of two prosecutors on the case. “He was willing to go into a willed-body program and cut up body parts for his own personal financial gain.”
The jury took about a day to convict Nelson, who faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Reid, an embalmer from Anaheim, is serving more than four years in prison.
Prosecutors said they decided not to call Reid to testify, saying he would have been an unreliable witness. “He is a liar. He is a thief. He is a cheater,” Zarate said outside court.
A juror said after the verdicts that there was overwhelming evidence against Nelson, but that the university also was at fault for failing to provide better supervision of the willed-body program.
“UCLA played a major role in allowing something like this,” said the juror, a 48-year-old paralegal who spoke on condition that his name not be published.
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