By the time his telephone rang on Wednesday, March 8, Dean Alberty was already tortured with anxiety. Mr. Alberty, who from 1995 to 1997 had worked as a "tissue procurement technician" for a company called Anatomic Gift Foundation, was set to testify before Congress the following day. The topic: the illegal trade in body parts of aborted babies. As he envisioned the approaching hearing, he imagined an imposing semicircle of federal legislators staring down at him from behind microphones, a packed gallery, popping flashbulbs, and whirring cameras.
Mr. Alberty's mounting tension would have morphed instantly into black fear had he known he was walking into an ambush.
Congress had called the March 9 hearing in response to evidence of an illegal trade in fetal tissue presented by the pro-life activist group Life Dynamics, as well as corroborating independent reports by several news outlets, including WORLD (Oct. 23, 1999). Mr. Alberty, 34, first made news as the informant "Kelly," who in 1997 came to Life Dynamics with horrific stories of the
for-profit distribution of baby brains, limbs, eyes, and organs by fetal tissue-brokers to medical researchers. (The group disguised Mr. Alberty as a woman to protect his identity.)
From 1997 through most of 1999, Mr. Alberty worked undercover, both in the Kansas Mid-Missouri Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and for Miles Jones, a fetal-tissue profiteer, gathering information on the new trade in human remains. But finally, his life had come down to this hearing. The next day, Mr. Alberty, who lives in Lee's Summit, Mo., would step forward to, in his words, "do the right thing."
But the right thing, it turned out, went dreadfully wrong. At the hearing, which was held by the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment, three witnesses besides Mr. Alberty were scheduled to testify: Lynn Fredericks, a former Planned Parenthood vice president who had compiled records of what she believed was a financially improper relationship between suspected baby-parts brokerage Anatomic Gift Foundation (AGF) and Kansas Mid-Missouri Planned Parenthood; AGF president James Bardsley; and Opening Lines' Dr. Jones, a Missouri pathologist who had boasted of his lucrative baby body-parts business on ABC's 20/20 only the night before.
The subcommittee was to consider a narrow question: Is fetal tissue being bought and sold in violation of federal law? But that question received scant attention during seven hours of testimony-particularly since neither Mr. Bardsley nor Dr. Jones showed up. Instead, a proceeding that should have blown the baby body-parts industry wide open dissolved into an open attack on Dean Alberty. Pro-abortion Democratic subcommittee members, apparently aided by Anatomic Gift Foundation, savaged Mr. Alberty's credibility under crossfire that eventually turned into a bipartisan turkey-shoot. When the smoke cleared, the attention of the nation was drawn effectively away from the message of an illegal trade in baby parts, and directed instead to a fallen messenger.
The orchestration of Mr. Alberty's fall began long before he arrived in Washington. The person who telephoned him the Wednesday before the hearing was Chicago attorney Fay Clayton. Ms. Clayton is a hardball, feminist lawyer who in 1998 successfully prosecuted a group of pro-life demonstrators on federal racketeering charges. Late last year, Anatomic Gift Foundation retained Ms. Clayton as counsel in a civil suit that alleged that Mr. Alberty, by recovering fetal tissue for Miles Jones, had violated a non-compete agreement he had signed when AGF hired him.
Michael Schwartz, an aide to Health and Environment Subcommittee member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), believes the timing of AGF's lawsuit-and the nature of its eventual settlement-raises questions. Why did it take AGF two years to sue Mr. Alberty? Why did the firm file its lawsuit only after Congress had passed a resolution calling for hearings on the fetal-tissue trade? Perhaps most importantly, why did AGF settle the lawsuit in exchange for a vow of silence from Dean Alberty, when the company claimed in the suit that Mr. Alberty had injured AGF financially?
Under the terms of the out-of-court settlement, Mr. Alberty not only does not have to give AGF any money; he may also keep the non-fetal tissue recovery business he recently launched. That is, as long as he keeps his mouth shut. He is prohibited by the settlement from speaking to anyone-unless under subpoena by a court or Congress-about what he saw when he worked for AGF. As a consequence, GOP subcommittee members charged with preparing for the March 9 hearing were not able to pre-screen Mr. Alberty to determine whether he'd make a sound witness.
But that apparently did not stop Fay Clayton from conducting her own brand of pre-screening. Mr. Alberty says Ms. Clayton called him the day before the hearing to rehearse portions of his deposition with him over the telephone. She may have been legally able to do that because part of AGF's settlement with Mr. Alberty stipulated that AGF attorneys had 20 hours of access to follow up with him. Ms. Clayton did not respond to WORLD's phone call. "She told me that people were going to go to jail for whatever I said at the hearing the next day," Mr. Alberty says. "Then she read me portions of my deposition, and asked me to confirm that what she was reading was what I had said."
Mr. Alberty says it was his impression that Ms. Clayton called him to "coach" his upcoming testimony, "so she could make sure I said the same thing in the hearing as I had said in my deposition. Also to scare and intimidate me. It worked. By the time my plane touched down in Baltimore, I was scared to death."
Although he didn't know it, Mr. Alberty had good reason to be scared. According to Michael Schwartz, AGF had provided documents to pro-abortion Democrats on the subcommittee to help them destroy Mr. Alberty's credibility. Further, once minority members of the committee had obtained Mr. Bardsley's materials, Mr. Schwartz says they withheld them from GOP subcommittee members until just hours before the hearing. As a result, subcommittee Democrats were able to dismantle Mr. Alberty's story in a public vivisection that Lou Sheldon and Jim Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition called "a disaster."
It was Mr. Alberty's deposition in particular that helped Democrats shred his viability as a witness. He gave the deposition to Ms. Clayton just prior to his settlement with AGF. In it, Mr. Alberty said under oath that he had "no personal knowledge" of whether AGF ever sold fetal tissue in violation of the law. Mr. Alberty also admitted that he had embellished stories of abortion clinic goings-on that he had told to Life Dynamics in a videotape made by the group in May 1998.
"Personal knowledge" is a precise legal term that means a person was not an actual eyewitness or party to a specific event. But it does not mean that Mr. Alberty, who says he dissected dead children according to AGF's client-researcher requirements and had seen AGF's baby-parts price list, could not have made a reasonable assumption that his employers were operating illegally.
In addition, Mr. Alberty's attorney David Stout, Mr. Schwartz, and others believe that though Mr. Alberty may have embellished accounts he shared with Life Dynamics, the broad core of his story is true-including the story Mr. Alberty told legislators drove him to come forward about the body-parts trade in the first place: that of infant twins, aborted alive and brought to him in a pan for dissection. At the hearing and on the Life Dynamics videotape, Mr. Alberty said the twins, who were between 26 and 30 weeks old, were "cuddling each other" and "gasping for breath."
The incident was a crucial part of what Mr. Alberty felt was a battle for his soul. Vowing to leave the abortion business and make peace with God, Mr. Alberty walked out of the lab and out of the clinic. Even while confused, frightened, and under fire from his subcommittee inquisitors, Mr. Alberty-under oath-did not recant that story.
House members bent on discrediting Mr. Alberty brushed past the issue of the twins and focused instead on his "no personal knowledge" statements, as well as discrepancies between his deposition and the Life Dynamics videotape. California Reps. Henry Waxman, Anna Eshoo, and Lois Capps peppered Mr. Alberty with accusatory questions that Mr. Schwartz says "blew his credibility to shreds within minutes."
Another trap: Ms. Eshoo raised a sheet of paper in the air and waved it like a flag. It was a photocopy of a check made out to Mr. Alberty by Life Dynamics. In all, the group paid Mr. Alberty more than $10,000, plus $11,276 in reimbursements for expenses, over the two-year period he gathered information for them. Although Mr. Alberty does not feel that his accepting money in return for investigative work bears on his credibility, that revelation effectively nailed shut the coffin on his testimony.
Since the hearing, some have questioned the competence of the GOP staff charged with preparing for the hearing. Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher said, "We repeatedly warned them that ... if they tried to make their case on what Alberty might do or say, rather than on the documentation, the hearing could blow up in their faces."
Mr. Alberty told WORLD that both his reputation and his life now lie in tatters. A week after the hearing debacle, he was fired from his job at a Missouri adult organ donation service. He now works as a part-time landscaper.
"I really came close to wanting to end my life after the hearing," says Mr. Alberty. "I wanted to try to do the right thing, but you know, the Devil won that day."