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Mom who donated son's body to science alleges remains were illegally trafficked

Becky Yerak, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- As he suffered from spindle cell sarcoma, Jacob Sandersfeld told his mother that he'd like to donate his body to medical research.

A day after her son died in June 2014 at age 23, Poplar Grove resident Dawn Carroll carried through with his wishes, signing a form authorizing that his body be donated to Biological Resource Center of Illinois so it could be used for medical education or research.

She was led to believe that the remains would be treated with dignity and wouldn't be dismembered or sold for profit, Carroll alleges in a lawsuit filed last week.

Against the family's wishes, several medical businesses harvested and mishandled Sandersfeld's remains, possibly for profit, the lawsuit alleges.

Carroll's lawsuit is the latest in a series of at least a half-dozen cases filed in Cook County against Biological Resource Center of Illinois and a group of connected companies, which are being investigated by the FBI. A trial is expected to begin later this year in Michigan for a man charged in connection with the federal investigation.

The companies "held themselves out to the general public as being dedicated to the collection and study of donor bodies solely for medical and scientific purposes," states the lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court. In reality, the suit alleges, Biological Resource Center of Illinois, Cremation Services Inc., the Arthroscopy Association of North America, International Biological Inc. and others were partners in an enterprise of "illegally collecting, harvesting and trafficking of human body parts for profit."

Katherine Cardenas of the Lucas & Cardenas law firm in Chicago said she has four cases pending in Cook County against Biological Resource Center of Illinois. In one of the cases, Catherine Senderak, of Schaumburg, alleges she learned that federal agents confiscated a box of the remains of Joseph Senderak, her late husband, during an investigation and that those remains did not include his head or parts of his arms.

An ongoing lawsuit with similar allegations against some of the parties was filed in 2015 in Cook County and is seeking class-action status, according to Krislov Law, which represents plaintiffs in that case.

Pequeena Dixon believes her father's remains were treated as a "profit machine," according to Krislov attorney Kenneth Goldstein. The lawsuit seeks to represent all families that were affected.

On its website, the FBI asks that donor families or organizations that acquired human remains from five companies -- including Biological Resource Center Inc., of Arizona; Biological Resource Center of Illinois, in Rosemont; and International Biological, of Detroit -- provide information to the FBI that could help its investigation.

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