A man who supplied private companies with human cadavers or body parts from UCLA's Willed Body Program as a middleman in a body parts-for-profit scheme was sentenced today to 10 years in prison.
Ernest Nelson, 51, was convicted May 14 of one count each of conspiracy to commit grand theft from the UCLA Willed Body Program, grand theft, grand theft by false pretenses and failure to file an income tax return for 2003 and four counts of filing a false tax return involving the 1999-2002 tax years.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Marisa Zarate told the six-man, six-woman jury that Nelson took part in a body-parts-for-profit scheme, working with Henry Reid, who headed UCLA's Willed Body Program at the time.
Reid, now 59, pleaded guilty Oct. 17 to conspiracy to commit grand theft and was sentenced Jan. 30 to four years and four months in state prison. Reid was not called to testify during Nelson's trial.
"He was willing to go into a Willed Body Program and cut up body parts for his own personal financial gain," Zarate told reporters outside court after the verdict, noting that neither defendant would be in court if the proper paperwork had been filled out and if the payments had been made to UCLA.
During the trial, Zarate told jurors that the Willed Body Program "became derailed" after Reid and Nelson met and realized they could personally profit if Reid supplied Nelson with human cadavers and body parts for sale to private companies. She said it was illegal for Reid to supply Nelson with the bodies without filling out the required paperwork.
Reid received six cashier's checks from Nelson in 1999 totaling $43,000, then was paid in cash in a move that left "no paper trail," Zarate said.
The only money trail found were the orders made by companies from throughout the United States who "legally paid" Nelson for the cadavers and body parts, the prosecutor said, noting that Nelson received $1.5 million between 1999 and 2003.
Defense attorney Sean K. McDonald countered during the trial that Nelson's clients included some of the biggest names in the industry, including Johnson & Johnson, in what was "all above board."
"Henry Reid is a thief," McDonald told jurors during the trial. "What he would do is he would provide Ernest Nelson with the cadaver. ...The problem in this case is Henry Reid wasn't forwarding the money to UCLA. He was pocketing it."
Nelson's attorney said there was no conspiracy between the two men.
"That's Henry Reid deciding to take the money Ernest Nelson was paying for the cadavers," McDonald told jurors, noting that his client was an "outsider they could scapegoat" following news of the scandal.
The UCLA Police Department began an investigation into the allegations in February 2004, and criminal charges were filed against the two just over three years later -- a case that was later superseded by an indictment containing essentially the same charges.
UCLA's Willed Body Program receives donations from people who have willed their bodies to the school for medical education and research purposes -- primarily for use in training medical students and assisting with scientific and medical research.