Former body broker pleads guilty in federal court
Posted March 9, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated March 9, 2009 6:45 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — A former North Carolina body parts supplier pleaded guilty Monday after being accused of falsifying the medical histories of cadavers from which he harvested tissue for transplants.
Philip Guyett Jr., 41, of Moorpark, Calif., faces up to 60 years in prison and $750,000 in fines after pleading guilty to three counts of mail fraud. He was freed on $25,000 secured bond and ordered to surrender his passport until sentencing, which is scheduled for June 1.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Banunathi Rangarajan said in court that Guyette received $3,000 to $7,000 for each body he harvested.
Guyett, who lives in California, forged the identities, ages and blood samples of donors' cadavers to ensure the risky tissue could be sold, prosecutors said.
His company, Donor Referral Services Inc., also hid instances of a donor's disease or drug use. If Guyett knew a blood sample would be rejected, he would submit one from a different body, "giving the appearance the human tissue qualified for transplantation," Rangarajan said.
In accepting responsibility for his actions, Guyett said in a statement that he "assumed the checks and balances in the screening and processing would catch any problems with the tissue."
"I was greatly relieved when I was advised that no one was harmed by my actions," he said. "Nonetheless, I deeply regret my wrongdoing, and I apologize for any problems I may have caused."
Under a 10-page plea agreement, the federal government will sell Guyett's house, with proceeds going to his victims.
He also agrees to meet with investigators and to be willing to testify in any future court cases. Prosecutors have agreed not to prosecute him on additional charges but can vacate the plea if he provides false information.
Federal regulators shut down Guyett's operation in 2006, citing inaccurate paperwork and poor record-keeping. The case, along with a separate investigation into a New Jersey company that was accused of plundering corpses for body parts, raised concerns about the safety of tissue transplants and the billion-dollar industry they support.
After those two cases, thousands of Americans who had routine medical procedures involving tissues were urged to get tested for HIV and hepatitis. More than a million procedures each year use tissue from donated cadavers.
The Food and Drug Administration has declined to say whether any transplants linked to Guyett led to illness, saying such information is only available through a Freedom of Information Act request, which The Associated Press submitted last week. Industry officials say there hasn't been an infection from tissue transplants since 2002.
Amid fears that other companies may be operating without adequate oversight, the FDA said in 2007 that it rushed inspections on all 153 companies that recover cadaver parts. The agency reported that it found no major problems.
But regulators oversee some 2,000 businesses that handle tissues and generally inspect only a few hundred each year.
Guyett's history, meanwhile, may have shown a sign of problems to come. He was sentenced a decade ago to community service and probation after police accused him of pocketing $1,100 from the sale of a cadaver while he was an administrator at the willed body program at Western University in Pomona, Calif.
In 2003, while Guyett was working in Las Vegas, Missouri police discovered human limbs in a leaky FedEx container his company had shipped.
The U.S. attorney's office urges patients and health care providers to report any adverse reaction which might be related to a tissue transplant to the FDA via its Web site or by calling 800-FDA-0178.