Arizona business cut up, sold parts from bodies donated to science, court records show

Warning: This story contains graphic content. 

New court documents in a lawsuit against a shuttered Phoenix body donation business reveal that FBI agents in 2014 found buckets of body parts piled on top of one another and a head sewn onto a mismatched body, according to reports.

The Arizona Republic reported that the lawsuit against Biological Resource Center, filed by 33 plaintiffs, is set for trial Oct. 21 in Maricopa County Superior Court. The suit alleges that the remains of the plaintiffs' family members were obtained through "false statements."

Troy Harp, one of the plaintiffs, told KTVK in Phoenix that his mother and grandmother both decided to donate their bodies to science. Upon their deaths in 2012 and 2013, he donated their remains to Biological Resource Center with the understanding that they would be used for that purpose.

"Cancer and leukemia and whatever else, using sample cells," Harp told the news station. "That's what I was told."

Instead, the bodies, along with others, were cut into pieces and sold to the highest bidder, authorities said. The FBI raided the facility in 2014 as part of a multi-state investigation into the illegal trafficking of human body parts.

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Former FBI special agent Mark Cwynar testified in a declaration in the civil lawsuit that he "personally observed various unsettling scenes" while the raid was underway, the Republic reported. Those scenes included a "cooler filled with male genitalia" and torsos with limbs and genitals removed, the documents say.

The agent said he saw a “bucket of heads, arms and legs,” piled on top of one another with no identification as to which parts belonged to which bodies.

Cwynar also testified he saw a "large torso with the head removed and replaced with a smaller head, sewn together in a 'Frankenstein' manner," the Republic reported.

A price list from 2013 is also part of the court filings, the newspaper said. Prices ranged from $375 for a knee to $2,400 for a torso with head or $2,900 for a whole body without the shoulders or head.

The owner of Biological Resource Center, Stephen Gore, pleaded guilty in October 2015 to conducting an illegal enterprise. The Republic reported the criminal charges stemmed from allegations that he provided vendors with contaminated tissue and used body parts in ways not permitted by the donors.

Gore, who the plaintiffs’ lawyers found has a high school education, was not licensed or certified to operate a body donation program, the newspaper said.

In a letter to the court prior to his sentencing in 2015, he wrote that he was overwhelmed working in an industry with “no formal regulations” for how to operate.

"I could have been more open about the process of donation on the brochure we put in public view," Gore wrote, according to the Republic. "When deciding which donors could be eligible to donate, I should have hired a medical director rather than relying on medical knowledge from books or the internet."

KTVK reported that Gore was sentenced to a year of deferred jail time and four years of probation.

Harp told the news station he feels he will never have closure in the case. He said he received his mother’s ashes by mail after the raid, but he isn’t sure they are hers.

"This is open, and I don't feel like I ever will (have closure)," he said.

Arizona passed a law in 2017, in reaction to the Biological Resource Center fiasco, that requires body donation companies to be licensed. Thus far, the law has not been enforced, the Republic reported.

Four body donation companies currently operate in the state, but unlike Gore’s company, all are accredited, the newspaper said.

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