UC IRVINE: Embezzlement Charges at Cadaver Program Puts School Back in Hot Seat
In yet another scandal for the University of California-Irvine, medical school officials reported Friday that they are investigating charges that parts of bodies donated to the school may have been sold for personal profit and that cremated remains may have been returned to the wrong families. After dismissing Christopher Brown, director of the school's Willed Body Program, officials asked the district attorney to launch a formal investigation of suspected embezzlement. The charges stem from a trip to Phoenix that Brown charged to UCI, where he allegedly delivered six spines to a research program and received a $5,000 check made out to an organization not recognized by the University. Shoddy recordkeeping and damage from a computer virus have prevented investigators from determining the scope of the fraud, which could include up to 225 bodies donated to the lab during Brown's largely unsupervised three-year tenure (Harris/Gottlieb/Warren, Los Angeles Times, 9/18). UCI's cadaver collection program has stopped accepting donations while investigators attempt to recreate records using death certificates in an effort to locate bodies (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/18). Dr. Peter Lawrence, a professor of surgery now serving as director of the program, has proposed several remedies, including implementing a new computer system, adding more staff and reorganizing the reporting structure to enhance administrative oversight. The medical center has been the unhappy site of several recent scandals, including theft of human eggs from the infertility clinic and unrelated allegations of "research impropriety" that have caused the resignation of at least two professors (Gottlieb/James, Los Angeles Times, 9/19).
Families Up in Arms
Survivors of family members whose bodies have been donated to the Willed Body Program are "dismayed," the Orange County Register, and some confided suspicions about Brown that arose from their initial interactions with him. One woman, whose father willed his body to the UCI program, described Brown as "very nice, very cordial and professional," but said that Brown was not able to tell her where her father's body was when her concerns about the unmarked van used to pick up the corpse prompted her request. And a man whose mother's body was donated to the program said Brown "had a sort of laissez- faire attitude about the whole thing" (Heisel, 9/20). Brown, for his part, is defending his actions. "I've never done anything that would be deemed unethical or anything that wasn't done by the university's procedures. They can't prove I did anything wrong" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/18).