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Documents: Cadavers netted hundreds of thousands

Henry Reid, the director of UCLA's Willed Body Program, was arrested Saturday.

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Anyone concerned that parts of a family member's donated body were sold should contact UCLA by phone at 866-317-6374 or by email at 

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The man who allegedly illegally sold body parts from cadavers donated to UCLA apparently netted hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work, according to documents provided to CNN.

The documents relate to a claim submitted to the university by Ernest Nelson, who is accused of illegally harvesting body parts from cadavers donated to the Willed Body Program and selling them to various companies.

Nelson has been charged with receiving stolen property in the case. He allegedly purchased body parts from the director of the program, Henry Reid, who himself was arrested Saturday "for illegal activities involving the commercialization of human remains," or selling body parts, authorities said.

The documents were provided to CNN on Tuesday by University of California officials.

In January, attorneys for Nelson notified the university that they would seek $241,000 in damages from UCLA because of money their client lost when he had to return body parts to the school.

The proposed suit said the body parts and whole cadavers had to be returned to the university when it was discovered that UCLA was issuing phony serology certificates, which said that the specimens had been tested for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, when they had not.

Nelson's attorneys said in the suit that the California Department of Health sent letters to Nelson's clients saying that his specimens had not been tested. The clients then severed their relationships with Nelson, causing his business to fail, the documents said.

"Mr. Nelson was put out of business as a result of UCLA's conduct," the proposed suit said.

The attorneys said in the documents that UCLA and Nelson reached an agreement that he would be reimbursed $241,000 for the specimens he had to return, and claim to have a letter outlining that agreement dated June 13, 2003.

The money has never been paid, the proposed suit said.

The documents said Nelson was first introduced to an employee of the UCLA Willed Body Program in 1997 by employees of Johnson & Johnson "for the purpose of acquiring anatomical specimens for research."

In 1998, the documents said, Nelson was introduced to Reid, who allegedly knew that Nelson was selling the specimens to several companies -- one of the largest being Johnson & Johnson.

Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement saying it takes the matter of "using human tissue samples for medical research and education very seriously."

"We can confirm that one of our wholly owned business units, Mitek, contracted with Mr. Nelson in the 1990s for human tissue samples. Mitek did not knowingly receive samples that may have been obtained in an inappropriate way," the statement said.

Nelson's proposed lawsuit said his business was extensive.

"Plaintiffs' business and clientele grew to the point where plaintiffs were supplying specimens to various companies throughout the United States and even to some foreign countries," the documents said, adding that Nelson handled more than 175 cadavers per year between 1998 and 2003.

UCLA has said previously that about 175 bodies are donated to the program each year.

School officials on Tuesday voluntarily suspended the Willed Body Program. (Full story)

CNN's Frank Buckley contributed to this report.

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