Early Warning On Cadaver Scandal

selling body parts: for sale sign over outline of a man and cadaver
High-ranking officials of the University of California system were told more than a year ago of potential abuses in UCLA's body parts program, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

State health inspectors in February 2003 warned university officials about the possible misuse of bodies donated to UCLA and about Ernest V. Nelson, a body parts dealer, the paper reported, citing correspondence released by the state Department of Health Services.

Henry Reid, director of UCLA's Willed Body Program that makes donated bodies available for medical education and research, and Nelson, not a university employee, were arrested earlier this month for investigation of dealing in stolen body parts. Both men were released after posting bail.

State investigators became suspicious of Nelson after receiving tips that he had kept the bodies in his garage and falsely claimed they had been screened for infectious diseases.

Nelson "may be misrepresenting an association with the University of California," Tom Tempske, a laboratory examiner with the department, wrote to university officials in February 2003.

Tempske also wanted to know if Nelson "now or ever has obtained" cadaver parts from any of the university system's programs.

That initial inquiry prompted a meeting with university officials and state investigators weeks later.

University of California officials said they questioned Reid about his relationship with Nelson. They said Reid had promised to recover the parts given to Nelson.

"The basic problem is that we essentially had a double agent working against us," Lavonne Luquis, a UC system spokeswoman, said Monday, referring to Reid. "He was saying, 'I'm going to deal with this.'"

UCLA officials now allege that Reid sold body parts to Nelson, who resold them to corporations for a profit.

The Times also reported that UCLA police seized the cremated remains of 23 people who donated their bodies to the program. The newspaper said some family members had been assured the remains had been scattered long ago.

"Barbaric," said a woman who learned her husband's ashes had been seized in a series of raids.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she and her husband believed that donating his remains would serve science. "We felt it would do some good, but it wasn't helping science, it was helping a greedy individual with no conscience," she told the Times.