Brothers Admit Selling Cadavers in Body Trafficking ScamSep 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Yesterday, the Associated Press (AP) broke the news about Michael Mastromarino, 44, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, the who made millions by masterminding a body trafficking scam that involved stealing hundreds of bodies and selling body parts and tissue to medical companies. Today, the AP is reporting that the two brothers—Louis and Gerald Garzone—who ran a funeral home and crematorium involved in the body trafficking scheme admitted they sold cadavers as part of the fraudulent operation.
Mastromarino sold human remains under the company name Biomedical Tissue Services, located in New Jersey. Bodies were taken from funeral homes; tissue and body parts were often diseased and previously rejected. The scheme came to light in October 2005, when Regeneration Technologies, Inc. a Florida-based processor of orthopedic, cardiovascular and other biologic implants, announced that the company, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued a voluntary recall of allograft implants. The grafts were processed from donor tissue received from Biomedical Tissue Services, and was initiated due to questions raised with respect to donor documentation received from Biomedical Tissue.
As part of the arrangement, Mastromarino paid James McCafferty and the Garzones, $245,000 for at least 244 corpses between February 2004 and October 2005. Mastromarino would then send what the AP described as a "cutting" crew, led by former nurse Lee Cruceta, to Philadelphia to dissect the bodies. The Garzones allowed the corpses to be carved up without families' permission and without medical tests, prosecutors said. Skin, bones, tendons and other parts were sold nationwide for dental implants, knee and hip replacements, and other procedures. Sometimes cadavers were reconstructed with plastic pipes so that the bodies could be made presentable for viewing.
Tissue stolen from one body could garner as much as $4,000 and at least 10,000 people received tissue from the scam. Now, patients are reporting that they have contracted diseases from tainted body parts. Manos reported that some bodies were only torsos by the time the men were done with their desecration. Because reconstructing stolen corpses proved too costly and time-consuming, Mastromarino used bodies scheduled for cremation, according to Manos who added that bodies were left unrefrigerated, sometimes for days, pending cutting crews.
The scam involved falsifying names, ages, and causes of death to disguise bodies that were too old or diseased to be harvested legally; therefore, authorities were only able to identify 49 of the bodies. Also, the Garzones burned their records in the crematorium when the investigation began, Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos said. The bodies included that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke. In another case, the body of Lois Elder, 58, of Philadelphia, who died of complications from a stroke in April 2005, was sent to the crematorium, said her daughter, Taya. Today, Elder said she can only assume the ashes she has are what was left of mother's body after the cutting crew got to her.
The Garzone brothers pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy, theft, abuse of corpse, and welfare fraud. Cruceta pleaded guilty in January to abusing corpses and other charges; McCafferty pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and theft charges. Louis Garzone also pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and both brothers pleaded guilty to defrauding the state public welfare department, which reimburses funeral homes for services provided to impoverished families. The Garzones filed for about $77,000 in unentitled reimbursements, prosecutors said. The brothers remain free on bail until sentencing October 22.
As for Mastromario, this is not the first time he has been involved in a body theft and selling scam. He pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, body stealing, and reckless endangerment in New York and was sentenced in June to 18 to 54 years in prison.