(Reuters) - A Pennsylvania skin-graft salesman is facing charges that he stole $350,000 worth of human skin from a Philadelphia hospital over a period of nearly two years, police said on Friday.
Gary Dudek, 54, is accused of stealing sheets of lab-grown skin intended for use in skin-graft surgeries from Mercy Philadelphia Hospital between November 2011 and July 2013, a local police spokeswoman said.
The hospital said in a statement that it called the police after an audit revealed "illegal or improper behavior" from a vendor supplying the skin, which is artificially grown in a laboratory out of human skin cells.
Eugene Tinari, Dudek's lawyer, said his client had done "nothing that amounts to criminality." He called the charges draconian and said they were better dealt with in a civil rather than criminal case.
"There's a fine line between misplacing, and errors, and stealing," he said. "What would he want skin grafts for?" Tinari declined to go into further detail.
Dudek worked as a sales representative specializing in tissue regeneration for Organogenesis, a Massachusetts-based biotech firm that engineers skin tissue for use in grafting.
Skin grafts are typically used to treat disfigurements caused by severe burns, injuries or disease.
Organogenesis said in a statement that Dudek worked for the company from 2006 until 2013. It was not immediately clear under what circumstances he left the medical supplies company, which declined further comment.
Tinari said it was a "mutual parting of ways" following a dispute between Dudek and Organogenesis over the Mercy Philadelphia Hospital skin grafts. "Now Mercy Hospital has determined that they may be out some money so they're going after my client," Tinari said.
The motive for the alleged theft remained unclear, according to Officer Christine O'Brien, the police spokeswoman.
"This is the first incident we've had like this," she said.
Dudek was arrested on Monday at his home in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on charges of theft and record-tampering. He has been released on $10,000 bail. Neither Dudek nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Gunna Dickson and Richard Chang)