Prominent coroner accused of misusing county workers



He resigned as Allegheny County's medical examiner after learning of the charges.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Dr. Cyril Wecht, a nationally renowned medical examiner who consulted in the deaths of Elvis Presley and JonBenet Ramsey, was indicted Friday on federal charges of using county employees to campaign for him and handle his private lab work.
The indictment also accuses Wecht of trading unclaimed bodies stored by the county coroners office, which he headed, to a Pittsburgh university in exchange for use of a laboratory there for his private practice.
Wecht, 74, planned to turn himself in later. He immediately resigned from his $105,000-a-year post as Allegheny County's medical examiner after learning of the indictment.
84-count indictment
The 84-count indictment accuses him of using county employees to run private errands and do work for his private practice between 1996 and December 2005.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan declined to estimate how much Wecht -- who earned $4.65 million from his private practice from 1997 to 2004 -- might have gained from the alleged abuse.
"Am I innocent? Yes, I'm innocent," Wecht told reporters Friday evening. Asked whether he thought the indictment would affect his reputation, he said: "Reputation is in the eyes of the beholder, as is beauty. So we'll see how it plays out with people."
Denying the charges
His defense team, including former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, issued a statement Friday denying the charges and blaming local politics.
The attorneys said the investigation began as a result of "fanciful allegations" by the county district attorney, with whom Wecht has feuded. They also questioned the U.S. attorney's jurisdiction over his conduct in county government. The indictment said federal authorities have jurisdiction because the county uses some federal funds.
The federal investigation was well-known, and Wecht had earlier agreed to resign if indicted. His attorneys have said they met with federal prosecutors in recent weeks to try to negotiate a settlement.
The indictment charges Wecht with mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of honest services and theft from the county coroner's office.
The university mentioned, Carlow University, was not accused of a crime.
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