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Body Parts Racket|Alleged in Arizona

PHOENIX (CN) - Eight families sued the Phoenix-based Biological Resource Center this week, claiming it solicited their loved ones' bodies for scientific research, then sold the body parts for profit around the world.

Lead plaintiff Suzanne Beecher, whose husband Brent donated his body to the Biological Resource Center, claims the center and its subsidiaries order, ship and transport human body parts and entire bodies to each other and to other entities for profit.

The FBI raided the center in January 2014, and Phoenix news outlets reported in October this year that Stephen Gore, the owner, agreed to plead guilty to a class-three involving contaminated human tissue, or tissue used in a way against the donor's wishes. Relatives of the dead told reporters they felt the plea deal was insufficient.

Gore is a defendant in the Dec. 7 lawsuit, as are a number of other directors and employees of the center, which has been closed.

In Phoenix, a search and seizure warrant for the Biological Resource Center in Phoenix, and several individual defendants in this case, indicates that investigators seized human bodies, heads, torsos, shoulders, arms, knees, tibias and hips, KNXV-TV in Phoenix, an ABC station, reported in March this year.

The FBI requested "victim assistance" on its website, for a "body donation investigation" involving the Biological Resource Center in Phoenix, International Biological in Detroit, the Biological Resource Center of Illinois, and the Arthroscopy Association of North America and Anatomical Service, both of Schiller Park, Ill.

The FBI is seeking information from "next-of-kin body donors," end users of the human anatomical material, and people and organizations who obtained "human anatomical material" from one or more of the centers under investigation.

An answering machine at the Biological Resource Center of Illinois says it stopped accepting donations in July. It says on its website: "It comes with great sadness that we have decided to shut down our program, effective July 31, 2015."

The FBI and state officials began the investigation in Detroit in December 2013, Beecher says, to determine whether the center and its various entities and partners were involved in illegally transporting human body parts across state lines and international borders for profit, mishandling bodily remains, violating health laws, and misrepresenting the scheme to body donors and their spouses and families.

Beecher et al. say that since at least 2007, the Biological Resource Center and its owners and staff have portrayed themselves "as being dedicated to the collection and study of human donor bodies solely for medical and scientific purposes" but were actually "illegally collecting, harvesting and trafficking of human body parts for profit."

"None of the plaintiffs or their respective next of kin authorized or otherwise desired to have the family members' bodily remains be sold for profit or wrongfully dismembered, mishandled or improperly cremated or disposed of," the families say in the complaint.

They say the center led them "to believe that the body of their next of kin would be used solely for medical and/or scientific research; that it would be treated with dignity and respect; and that it would not be dismembered and/or sold for profit."

But they say they learned this year that "their family members were dismembered and that their body parts or whole bodies were sold for profit; that their family members' body parts were shipped overseas for profit to unknown entities" and the recipients of the bodies or body parts were not scientific or educational organizations engaged in research.

In the same Internet posting on which it announced its shutdown, the Biological Resource Center says: "The volume of medical advancements in treatment and devices those donations have gone to perfect or create to help save and enhance the quality of life for generations to come is immeasurable," but does not list any examples of medical advancements.

Beecher et al. seek punitive damages for racketeering, fraud, conspiracy, mishandling of bodily remains, aiding and abetting, misrepresentation, emotional distress and negligence.

Defendants include Stephen Gore and Sally Gore, the Biological Resource Center, the Biological Resource Center in Illinois, International Biological, Platinum Medical, Vista Hospice Care, CLP Healthcare Services dba Hospice Campassus, and Sutton Memorial Funeral Home.

Officials for the Biological Resource Center did not respond phone and email requests for comment Wednesday.

The families are represented by Michael Burg, with Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, who could not be reached by telephone Thursday.

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