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Wecht indicted for trading corpses with Carlow

Cadavers now have bargaining power. Celebrity forensic specialist and Allegheny County medical examiner Cyril H. Wecht announced his resignation only hours after being indicted on January 20 for fraudulent activity and the alleged bartering of human bodies.

The resignation came as no surprise to Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who was previously given Wecht’s letter of resignation in early December in the event of such an indictment.

“I have accepted Dr. Wecht’s letter of resignation from the position of interim Medical Examiner,” said Onorato in his press release. Onorato then announced he had already begun to search for a new medical examiner.

The 84-count indictment included charges that Wecht had been using county resources, including vehicles and employees, for his private business. Wecht allegedly overbilled his private clients, charging them a $90 fee for airport transportation via limousine when, in actuality, he traveled to Pittsburgh International Airport using a county-owned vehicle.

Perhaps the most controversial charge deals with Wecht’s private practice’s involvement with Pittsburgh’s Carlow University. The indictment accused Wecht of supplying Carlow with cadavers in exchange for the use of their laboratory space for his own practice. Carlow issued a statement denying they had willingly and knowlingly participated in unauthorized transactions, including the exchange of cadavers, with Wecht. “Carlow University was not aware of any of these alleged violations,” the press release stated.

Carlow University would not make any direct remarks to The Tartan, but according to the university’s release, “Carlow provided facilities to Dr. Wecht for the purpose of teaching autopsy procedure as part of the course of instruction in the University’s forensic sciences program.”

The Tartan was unable to elicit further comment from Charles Gibbons, Carlow’s attorney, but he told other news sources that the bodies were used strictly for the teaching purposes of the university.

The agreement was to use bodies from Wecht’s private practice for instruction during anatomy classes. However, the indictment claims Wecht used bodies that belonged to Allegheny County and bodies that required no autopsy.

The former medical examiner’s private practice has flourished recently, having grossed approximately $8.75 million between 1997 and 2004. “We’re very pleased with his work. For what the tax-payers pay for an autopsy, we’re getting world-quality work right in our back yard,” Kenneth Bacha, the coroner of Westmoreland County told The Tartan.

However, it is that same practice that has come into question with the recent charges that he used county employees to conduct his own business.

Wecht’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, issued a statement formally denying the charges and questiong the jurisdiction of Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney who issued the indictment. Traditionally, a U.S. attorney cannot prosecute someone based on his actions at a county level, such as Wecht’s involvement in Allegheny County. But the indictment stated that federal authorities have jurisdiction because the county uses federal courts.

Wecht is popular in the forensics and medical field, having worked on well-known cases including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the death of Elvis Presley. Wecht’s name became even more popular in the 1990s for consulting in the O.J. Simpson case and the death of JonBenet Ramsey.

Students at Carnegie Mellon may also know Wecht for his recent appearance on campus. Wecht was part of a panel discussion during the Martin Luther King Day celebrations, only five days before his resignation.

Even with the current indictment, many county coroners’ offices have stated they still intend to hire Wecht due to his precedent. “From what we’ve seen in the indictment, nothing has to do with poor work,” remarked Bacha.

Wecht currently oversees autopsies in Clarion, Greene, and Westmoreland counties.

“He’s really first-class,” Bacha said.