Owner of human tissue donation firm pleads guilty in Arizona

Image 1 of 9

PHOENIX (AP) — The owner of an Arizona company that arranges the donation of bodies for medicine and research pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony charge for his role in mishandling the donations.

Stephen Gore pleaded guilty in a Phoenix courtroom to a charge of illegally conducting an enterprise after his company, Biological Resource Center of Arizona, was the subject of a two-year investigation.

The 48-year-old businessman acknowledged his firm provided vendors with human tissue that was contaminated and used in ways that went against the wishes of the donors. The company's body donation facility in Phoenix was raided by authorities wearing hazardous-material gear in January 2014.

He faces between 2 1/2 years to 7 years in prison. Gore also agreed to pay $120,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Defense, which had arranged to use bodies from the business for research but was ultimately was unable to use them.

Jennifer Caines, whose brother's body was donated to medical research after his December 2012 death, tearfully described her unease in not knowing what Gore's business did with her brother's remains. "We were trying to do a really good thing in a bad situation, and instead it's just going to continue non-stop forever," Caines said outside court.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office prosecuted Gore, said there's a continuing federal investigation into Gore's businesses and other such companies.

"We feel like this is one step on the road to justice," Brnovich said of Wednesday's plea.

The number of people whose family members' remains were mishandled by the Phoenix firm was unavailable. Authorities say the remains have been returned to some families, while others await the return of the remains.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office sent a letter announcing Gore's upcoming guilty plea to about 1,000 people. That figure includes survivors of donors and others who called a hot line to inquire about whether their donation was handled properly.

Cadaver donation companies distribute remains to universities, medical device manufacturers and drug companies. The companies pay the associated costs and use the bodies for medical education and research, and families save burial or cremation costs.

Investigators also have raided a donation facility in Illinois with a name that's similar to Gore's business. Gore isn't an owner in the Illinois facility.

Authorities say it's illegal to sell human tissue that's contaminated by diseases such as HIV, AIDS and hepatitis.