Former Carlow president denies Wecht deal existed
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Carlow University's former president yesterday flatly stated she never talked to Dr. Cyril H. Wecht about giving him free autopsy lab space on campus in exchange for cadavers from the county morgue, much less made such a deal.
Sister Grace Ann Geibel was the government's witness, but she hardly did prosecutors any favors as the sixth week of Dr. Wecht's federal fraud trial concluded.
Embedded in the 41 criminal counts against Dr. Wecht are allegations that while Allegheny County coroner, he improperly sent unclaimed bodies from the morgue to Carlow for use in an autopsy technician program that he founded with Sister Geibel in 2003.
In return, the government alleges, Dr. Wecht got free lab space on campus to conduct autopsies for his private, multimillion-dollar business, Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates.
Sister Geibel testified that although she and Dr. Wecht were the architects of the program, and though she signed off on a formal agreement in May 2005, she left the details to subordinates. She also said that an apparently key addendum to the agreement that the government has yet to introduce was executed in October 2005 after she retired.
Throughout her cross-examination by defense attorney Jerry McDevitt, Sister Geibel spoke of Dr. Wecht in glowing terms. She testified she was "beside herself" to learn he was charged in January 2006 with providing cadavers from the county morgue before she had been interviewed by investigators.
"Do you find that charge reprehensible?" Mr. McDevitt asked.
"I do," Sister Geibel answered, "I really do."
Sister Geibel agreed with Mr. McDevitt that what the two discussed was not a "cadaver-for-lab-space scheme, but an academic program."
Carlow's autopsy technician program developed in 2003 when Sister Geibel met with Dr. Wecht about possible uses of the school's new laboratory space. Dr. Wecht proposed creating the program, and that discussion eventually led to a formal curriculum that Sister Grace Ann embraced.
The timing was fortuitous for Dr. Wecht, who was in the process of losing his lab space in East Liberty at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science.
Dr. Wecht and the institute had talked about creating an autopsy technician program, but it never got off the ground.
Witness Eugene Ogrodnik, the institute's president and chief executive officer, said Dr. Wecht did not provide requested course paperwork, insurance coverage or a proposed contract.
What's more, the institute wanted to raise its rates for Dr. Wecht's use of the lab space, but he balked.
There was a flurry of correspondence between Dr. Wecht and the institute in April 2003, the same month Dr. Wecht began discussion with Sister Geibel. On April 29, he told Mr. Ogrodnik their deal was done. That summer, Sister Geibel said, Dr. Wecht moved into his new lab space at Carlow.
Also testifying yesterday was the aunt of a woman whose body was sent to Carlow for autopsy.
Barbara Whitehouse of Elk County said she never gave permission for an autopsy on Amy Gray in 2004 and viewed the procedure as a "desecration" that should not have been done without her niece's permission.
Ms. Whitehouse said she was never told by the coroner's office during conversations she had with representatives there that Ms. Gray would be part of the Carlow autopsy program
"I did not give permission for anybody to do anything. I don't believe in desecration of the body," Ms. Whitehouse told Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Stallings.
Trial continues Monday with Sister Geibel still under cross-examination. U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab said he anticipated that the government will wrap up its case next week.
First Published March 7, 2008 12:00 am