The owner of a now-closed Arizona body donation center where FBI agents found buckets of body parts, has been ordered to pay $58 million to 10 people for mishandling the donated remains of their loved ones.
A Maricopa County Superior Court jury ruled Nov. 19 that Stephen Gore, owner of the Biological Resource Center (BRC), must pay the sum to 10 of the 21 plaintiffs for dismembering body parts and selling them for profit—$50 million in punitive damages and $8 million in compensatory damages.
An attorney for donor families said he believes jurors did not rule in favor of 11 other plaintiffs because they didn’t testify at trial.
Speaking to Phoenix New Times, attorney Michael Burg described the ruling as “a landmark verdict” as the case had been emotionally devastating for the family members who often blamed themselves for falling prey to the company’s scam, believing the remains would be used for medical research.
“The FBI told people … your person’s body parts have been sold across the country,” Burg said. “They can’t stop thinking how their loved one’s head is now in Florida. They were cut up like a piece of meat. It’s despicable.”
Gore’s business was accused of fraud by claiming the donated bodies would be used for medical research, when it knew some of the remains would be sold for military testing, such as crashes and explosions. A woman whose son’s remains were sold for military testing was awarded $6.5 million.
The gruesome discovery was made during a human body parts trafficking raid across multiple states in 2014.
Agents also found bodies that had been cut up with “tools that are not appropriate for dismembering scientific bodies,” such as band saws and chainsaws, according to the lawsuit.
Troy Harp donated his mother’s and grandmother’s bodies to the BRC in 2012 and 2013, thinking that their bodies would be used for scientific purposes such as cancer research.
The BRC, like many other firms involved in the body donation industry, according to Reuters, offered families that they would collect the bodies and cremate part of each free of charge, mainly relying on those who could not afford to pay for a funeral.
“This is a horror story. It’s just unbelievable. This story is unbelievable,” Harp said.
Harp said his mother and grandmother wanted their bodies to be used to help medical research after their death. The BRC led him to believe their corpses would be used for scientific purposes.
“Cancer and leukemia, and whatever else using sample cells, that’s what I was told,” he said.
Former FBI agent Mark Cwynar gave testimony that he discovered “various unsettling scenes” during the raid at the BRC.
This included a “cooler filled with male genitalia, a bucket of heads, arms, and legs, infected heads, and a small woman’s head sewn onto a large male body “like Frankenstein” that was then hung up on the wall—that was referred to as a “morbid joke” in the lawsuit.
The agent also said he found bodies without identification tags, and “pools of human blood and bodily fluids,” on the freezer’s floor among the number of disturbing discoveries, the lawsuit details.
In total, agents found 1,755 human body parts at the BRC—from heads to fingernails—which filled up 142 body bags and weighed 10 tons, Reuters reported.
This included 281 heads, 241 shoulders, 337 legs, and 97 spines. Agents found the body parts of at least 36 people in a single body bag.
“Who in their right mind? It’s absolutely gross,” said Harp.
After reviewing thousands of internal BRC records and the confidential law enforcement documents of over 2,200 donors, Reuters found disturbing details of transactions showing the body parts were being harvested and sold.
The facility sold a public school janitor’s liver to a medical device company for $607. A product development company based in Minnesota purchased the lower legs of a union activist for $350 each. A retired bank manager’s torso was bought for $3,191 by a Swiss research institute, while a whole body fetched $5,893, reported Reuters in 2017.
Harp said a box allegedly containing his mother’s ashes showed up on his doorstep. Harp, however, has doubts that the ashes are even hers.
Gore’s defense lawyer, Timothy O’Connor, previously argued that BRC’s clients had signed consent forms granting permission to dismember the donated bodies, and that it was legal for the facility to make a profit.
Gore pleaded guilty in October 2015 to a felony charge for his role in mishandling the donated parts.
Though Gore denied the allegations in the lawsuit, he acknowledged when pleading guilty to illegally conducting an enterprise that his firm provided vendors with human tissue that was contaminated and used the donations counter to the wishes of the donors.
In a letter to the sentencing judge, Gore said he should have been more involved in the supervision of his employees and could have been more open about the donation process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.