A former mortuary worker convicted of carving up and selling cadavers donated to the University of California at Los Angeles' medical school was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday and ordered to pay more than $1.7 million.
Jurors had found Ernest Nelson, 51, guilty of eight counts, including grand theft and tax evasion after a trial that detailed how he and Henry Reid, the former director of UCLA's Willed Body Program, conspired to sell body parts from donated cadavers to enrich themselves.
"This is one of those cases so outrageous it doesn't come along very often," said Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe. "It's unusual only for the audacity with which the defendant acted."
Deputy District attorney Marisa Zarate said the facts of the case "take your breath away." She said that while Reid aided in the scheme, it was Nelson who walked into freezers, dismembered bodies, packaged the parts and delivered them to buyers across the country, including research firms and hospitals.
She said the scheme went undetected for five years.
"He took enough body parts to make $1.5 million," she said, noting that he sometimes took the funds to direct check cashing stores to hide the proceeds.
Reid pleaded guilty earlier and was sentenced to more than four years in prison.
Outside court, prosecutors Zarate and Eugene Hanrahan said they were pleased with the sentence. They said Nelson would be given credit for about three years he has served in prison. He will be eligible for parole after serving half his total sentence, said Hanrahan.
Investigators traversed the country to gather evidence in the case.
"It was really eye opening to see how this quiet and not well known medical research industry works," Zarate said. "What is shocking is that there are no state or federal regulations on body parts."
Source: AP Features