IRVINE, Calif. -- The medical school at the University of California at Irvine has fired a mortician accused of selling body parts -- another scandal for the institution where fertility doctors once stole eggs from women.
Christopher S. Brown, 27, was dismissed last week as director of the College of Medicine's Willed Body Program, where his job was to embalm and repair donated cadavers for research and to dispose of them afterward.Besides allegedly selling spines to a research hospital, Brown also reportedly mishandled cremated remains, helped conduct unauthorized anatomy courses and abused his position by cutting business deals with companies owned by his wife and a friend.
Brown, who made $33,000 a year, denied any wrongdoing to the Los Angeles Times.
"I've never done anything that would be deemed unethical and anything that wasn't done by the university's procedure," he said. "I've done everything the way I was trained or taught to do. They can't prove anything."
The scandal comes four years after three doctors at the university's Center for Reproductive Health were accused of taking eggs from a woman without her consent and transferring them to another woman, who delivered a baby. Investigators found later that doctors stole eggs from 100 women.
Although investigators in Brown's case have found nothing to suggest the bodies were used for anything but education and research, officials say it is unclear where some of the 225 cadavers ended up during his three years of service.
"It's painful and, quite honestly, it's demoralizing," said Thomas C. Cesario, dean of the medical school. "We put our trust in this fellow who was hired to do this -- care for the bodies."
Cesario ordered an investigation in June after the university received a questionable travel-expense claim from Brown for a trip to a Phoenix hospital.
Investigators found that the Phoenix hospital paid $5,000 for six spines that had been willed to UCI. The check was made out to Health Medical Services, an organization the university says it has never heard of.
Investigators said it was not clear whether Brown profited personally.
"He denies he's taken any money and he denies he's made any money," Stephen Warren Solomon, one of Brown's lawyers, said Tuesday. "This university has gone through some scandals in the past and there may be some overreaction on their part."
Robert Simpson Jr. has filed a class-action lawsuit against Brown and UCI for allegedly mishandling his mother's remains after her body was donated in March.
"The family wants to know what happened to her. They don't trust the university in light of what has come out," said attorney Federico Sayre.