- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

The federal government is now conducting a criminal investigation into former Maine funeral inspector Matthew Cyr, who purportedly collected human brains without consent for a Maryland research institute, a lawyer in the case said yesterday.

Mr. Cyr is accused of illegally obtaining the brains for the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Bethesda without authorization from next of kin. The case is the focus of at least one state investigation in Maine and more than a dozen civil suits.

Tom Marjerison, a lawyer who represents Mr. Cyr in the criminal investigation, confirmed his client is being investigated by the federal government but declined further comment.

Christopher Taintor, Mr. Cyr’s lawyer in the civil cases, said in a Jan. 25 e-mail to 16 other lawyers involved in the cases that his client was the target of a federal probe, according to published reports.

David Barry, a lawyer who represents the Stanley Institute in the criminal investigations, said neither the research lab nor founder Dr. E. Fuller Torrey is now under federal investigation.

“My clients have cooperated fully with authorities and have never knowingly received [material] without consent,” Mr. Barry said yesterday.

He would not say whether federal authorities have contacted his clients, who have denied wrongdoing.

The Stanley Institute opened a brain bank 12 years ago to advance research on mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Since then, hundreds of brains from state and county morgues in Maine, California, Minnesota and Washington state have been sent to the lab.

In 1999, lab officials made a deal with Maine’s medical examiner to obtain brains after post-mortem work and hired Mr. Cyr, then a funeral inspector, to solicit family members’ consent.

The medical examiner’s office, which operates under the state Attorney General’s Office, was involved in the state probe.

Maine’s Attorney General G. Steven Rowe turned over the state’s investigation of the medical examiner’s office to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to avoid a conflict of interest.

Charles Dow, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said he was unaware of criminal charges being filed and that the state investigation was ongoing. He deferred subsequent inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Calls to the U.S. Attorney’s Office yesterday were not immediately returned.

Officials in the medical examiner’s office have maintained they had a “fairly informal” agreement with Mr. Cyr and that he had assured them he would provide proper documentation.

In December, a Superior Court judge ruled that 13 of the civil suits could proceed.

The institute paid Mr. Cyr $1,000 a month plus $1,000 to $2,000 for each brain collected, totaling about $200,000 over four years.

The brains ended up at the Stanley Institute, which has about 625 brain samples in its freezers. Researchers use the brains to study schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The arrangement between the medical examiner’s office and the institute was permissible under Maine law, provided the next of kin gave consent.

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