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Friday, April 02, 2010
Man Charged With Felony Fraud in Body Parts Case
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Paul Montano's firm, Bio Care Inc., bills itself as a low-cost alternative to traditional funeral services that benefits medical science.
The firm's motto: "When cost is a concern, but trust is important."
But police charged Montano, 31, on Thursday with felony fraud after human remains, including seven heads and torsos traced to a Montano-owned firm, turned up at a Kansas plant that incinerates medical waste. Albuquerque police arrested him late Wednesday alleging he improperly handled human remains as required in contracts with families.
On Thursday, APD and the Office of the Medical Investigator officials served a search warrant at the Bio Care facility in the 6500 block of Eagle Rock NE, where they seized an undisclosed number of bodies, said Amy Boule, director of operations for OMI. Workers could be seen wheeling bodies out in body bags to waiting trucks.
Montano remained in the Metropolitan Detention Center on Thursday afternoon in lieu of $50,000 bond.
In an interview with Albuquerque police this week, Montano denied dismembering any bodies. A call to Montano's attorney, Rudolph Chavez of Albuquerque, was not returned Thursday.
Kansas City police notified Albuquerque homicide detectives about the finds between March 20-26, according to an APD criminal complaint charging Montano.
"All of the bodies appeared to have been dismembered by a coarse cutting instrument such as a chain saw," police wrote.
Montano told investigators this week that he "harvests" organs and other body parts requested by medical researchers, then stores the remains of the bodies in refrigerators. Montano said he works under contracts with family members.
After organs are used, they are sent back to Montano. "Once the whole body is back together," the criminal complaint says, "Bio Care sends the remains to be cremated and sends the ashes to the families." Stericycle Inc., a medical waste disposal plant, disposes any leftover medical waste.
Stericycle disposes of medical waste, including soft tissue and organs, and occasionally limbs, but never human heads or torsos, according to police.
The complaint does not provide a motive or explain why Montano might have sent the torsos and other remains to Kansas.
Dr. Alan C. Hancock, a coroner in Wyandotte County, Kan., said officials there were alerted March 20 after workers at Stericycle found a human skull among the ashes in their incinerator.
Company officials at Stericycle identified The Learning Center, a Montano-owned firm, as the source of the skull, he said.
"So the police intercepted the next shipment from The Learning Center and found six" human heads and torsos, Hancock said. Public records show Montano owns both Bio Care and The Learning Center but do not indicate if or how the companies are related.
Stericycle has had a contract with The Learning Center since 2008 to dispose of the firm's waste, police said.
But in recent months, The Learning Center began shipping waste to Stericycle in ever-larger quantities: eight containers in February and 12 in March, police said.
According to Bio Care's Web site, the firm offers family members a variety of free services, including cremation, death certificates and an urn.
"My understanding is that the bodies were used for local and national medical research," said Robert Noblin, director at the Riverside Funeral Home in Belen, which cremated the remains of nine people for Bio Care in 2009.
One of the bodies identified by Kansas officials was that of Charles Hines, 83, of Bosque Farms, who died in September 2009, police said.
Hines' son, Chuck Hines, decided to send his father's body to Bio Care after funeral home employees told him about the firm, police said. About two weeks later, funeral home officials told Hines that his father's remains had been cremated and were ready for pickup. The complaint does not explain what remains were sent to Belen.
In addition to Hines, police have identified Jacqueline Snyder, 42, of Albuquerque and Harold Dillard, age and address unknown, as those whose remains were sent to Kansas.
Noblin said his funeral home received the remains from Bio Care in a sealed, burnable container. Funeral home employees were not required by law or regulation to inspect the remains, he said.
"We relied on Bio Care's internal controls and acted in good faith," Noblin said. The funeral home also obtained permission from next-of-kin to cremate the remains, he said.
Medical research has an urgent need for cadavers, which allow doctors to improve their ability to diagnose and treat illness, said Maria Sanders, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Donor Services, which oversees the state's organ donation program.
"So many advances to medicine take place because someone is willing to donate their body to research," she said. "There is a terrible need."
Sanders said she was unfamiliar with Montano or his firm. New Mexico Donor Services works with an Arizona nonprofit, she said.
The University of New Mexico School of Medicine accepts bodies only from donors who made arrangements before their deaths, said Sam Giammo, spokesman for UNM Health Sciences Center. UNM has never received body parts from Bio Care, he said.