Man found guilty of $1.5m body parts scheme at UCLA

By Calvin Palmer

A man who carved up bodies donated to UCLA’s medical school and sold the body parts to medical research companies was convicted today in Los Angeles Superior Court of conspiring to commit grand theft, embezzlement and tax evasion.

Prosecutors said Ernest V. Nelson, 51, cut up heads, torsos and other parts from bodies donated to the medical school as part of its willed body program. He then sold the parts to unsuspecting medical and pharmaceutical research companies, amassing $1.5 million between 1999 and 2003.

Nelson, of Rancho Cucamonga, hatched the scheme with the director of the willed body program, Henry Reid, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to commit theft and was jailed for four years.

Prosecutors said Reid received checks totally $43,000 from Nelson in return for access to the bodies.

Other payments were in cash and were not documented, prosecutor Marisa Zarate said.

Nelson’s attorney Sean McDonald argued the payments to Reid were legitimate, accusing the program director of pocketing the money instead of forwarding it to the university.

Nelson, who ran a business transporting body parts to hospitals and medical research firms, had said he thought the sales were authorized by the university.

The scheme unraveled after a state health investigator became concerned about a sale in 2003 and contacted UCLA.

The scandal led to the suspension of UCLA’s cadaver program for a year in 2004. The school has since instituted procedures to prevent future abuses, including tracking systems for the bodies.

After the verdict Zarate said: “Nelson was willing to go into a willed body program and cut up body parts for his own personal financial gain.”

He could face a maximum of 12 years in prison and prosecutors want him to repay the $1.5 million to UCLA.

Sentencing is due to take place on June 12.

[Based on reports by the Los Angeles Times and newsday.com.]

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