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Guilty Plea in Biomedical Tissue Services Scandal

Sep 2, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Associated Press broke the news about Michael Mastromarino, 44, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who made millions of dollars by stealing hundreds of bodies and selling their body parts and tissue to medical companies 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.

Mastromarino pleaded guilty Friday to a wide variety of charges that may land him in prison for the remainder of his life, including hundreds of counts of abusing corpses, forgery, theft, and other allegations stemming from an operation authorities say he ran with three Philadelphia funeral directors.  Mastromarino made millions from the body scam, which involved New York and New Jersey funeral homes, prosecutors said.  The attorney for Mastromarino said the scam was driven by greed and was difficult to stop because it proved very profitable.

On October 14, 2005, 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.

The bodies included that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke and were apparently cut up without permission and not medically screened. Biomedical sold the parts nationwide for dental implants, knee and hip replacements, and other procedures; about 10,000 people received tissue.  Now, patients are reporting that they have contracted diseases from tainted body parts.

This is not the first time Mastromarino has been involved in a body theft and selling scam.  He previously 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.  In New York, Mastromarino dissected cadavers, sometimes reconstructing them with plastic pipes so that the bodies could be made presentable for viewing.  In Philadelphia, authorities say Mastromarino entered into business with James McCafferty and brothers Louis and Gerald Garzone, who collectively owned a crematorium.  Because reconstructing stolen corpses proved too costly and time-consuming, Mastromarino used bodies scheduled for cremation, according to Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos.  Manos reported that bodies were left unrefrigerated, sometimes for days, pending cutting crews.  Cadaver age, cause of death, and next of kin were falsified on paperwork and diseased tissue rejected by medical suppliers was often relabeled and resold, Manos said.

As part of the arrangement, Mastromarino paid McCafferty and the Garzones $245,000 for at least 244 corpses between February 2004 and October 2005, Manos said.  Mastromarino would then send what the AP described as a "cutting" crew, led by former nurse Lee Cruceta, to Philadelphia to dissect the bodies.

Cruceta pleaded guilty in January to abusing corpses and other charges.  McCafferty pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft and is awaiting sentencing. The Garzones pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial today on abuse of corpse, theft, and related offenses; Mastromarino will testify against them if asked, according to his attorney.  Gerald Garzone's lawyer denied that and said the group was not “all in this together" and that Mastromarino was the architect of the scam. 
Mastromarino has no sentencing agreement with Philadelphia authorities and faces a maximum of life in prison and over $18 million in fines. He is scheduled for sentencing on October 22.

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