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Guilty plea in cadaver scheme at UCLA

October 18, 2008|Victoria Kim | Times Staff Writer
  • Henry Reid, 57, an embalmer who was director of the willed-body program from 1997 to 2004, was charged with conspiracy and grand theft for allegedly funneling donated bodies to a middleman
Henry Reid, 57, an embalmer who was director of the willed-body program… (Christine Cotter / LAT )

A former director of UCLA's program for bodies donated to research pleaded guilty Friday to his role in a scheme to traffic body parts for profit, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

Henry Reid, 58, admitted to conspiring to steal body parts worth more than a million dollars from 1999 to 2004 and handing them over to "body broker" Ernest Nelson, who in turn sold the parts to medical and pharmaceutical research companies.

Reid and Nelson were indicted by a grand jury in May. Reid, as a part of his plea agreement, will cooperate with prosecutors in Nelson's trial, district attorney's officials said.

Reid's attorney, Melvyn Sacks, said that his client faced overwhelming proof of guilt and that Reid would be taking responsibility for his actions.

"He made a mistake, and he's going to pay for it and come out all the better for it," Sacks said.

Reid will be sentenced to four years and four months in state prison under the plea agreement, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marisa Zarate. He will also be ordered to pay restitution to UCLA of between $100,000 and $1 million. If he had been convicted at trial on all three counts, Reid would have faced a maximum of 11 years in prison, Sacks said.

Reid, an embalmer from Anaheim who took over the University's Willed Body Program in 1997, was a poorly paid director who was tempted by his access to valuable body parts that were scarce and in high demand, Zarate told a grand jury earlier this year.

A price list from the program, for example, valued a whole cadaver at $1,000 and a torso at $500, Zarate said.

"Henry Reid was giving [Nelson] as many parts as he wanted for his own personal payment and to his own personal bank account," she said.

The grand jury, in its indictment, accused Reid of providing "a steady supply of donated human body parts" to Nelson, who would then sell the parts to companies and institutions, many of which were doing legitimate medical research.

Nelson allegedly made more than $1 million by selling the cadavers and body parts to more than 20 private medical, pharmaceutical and hospital research companies. He faces eight felony counts including conspiracy, grand theft and tax evasion.

Sean McDonald, a public defender representing Nelson, said his client's case was expected to go to trial and won't be affected by Reid's plea.

"I don't think Mr. Reid's a very credible character, so we don't put much stock in what he has to say," McDonald said. "He committed these crimes, and I think he's just trying to say whatever that's going to help him."

University authorities became suspicious when they learned about Nelson's connection to the program and Reid. An audit discovered that hundreds of bodies were unaccounted for, and the program had bags of unidentified limbs, arms, hands and feet that should have been cremated.

After the scandal was made public in 2004, UCLA shut down the program for more than 18 months.

Program representatives declined to comment on Reid's plea. Reid is free on bail and scheduled to be sentenced in January. A trial date for Nelson, who remains in custody, has not been set.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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