• Fri. Aug 12th, 2022

US funeral home owner who sold body parts pleads guilty to fraud

ByRandall B. Phelps

Jul 5, 2022
  • The prosecution is asking for a sentence of 12 to 15 years in prison.
  • Colorado funeral home harvested and sold body parts

July 5 (Reuters) – A former Colorado funeral home owner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal charge of defrauding relatives of the dead by dissecting the corpses of their family members and selling the body parts without permission, a practice revealed in a 2018 Reuters investigative report.

Megan Hess, who operated a funeral home called Sunset Mesa and a human body parts business called Donor Services from the same building, pleaded fraud in a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher in Grand Junction, Colorado. Gallagher has scheduled Hess, who previously pleaded not guilty, to be sentenced in January, with the prosecution seeking 12 to 15 years in prison.

Hess, 45, admitted on Tuesday that through her funeral home, located in the western town of Montrose, she defrauded at least a dozen families seeking cremation services for deceased relatives. Instead of cremating the bodies, according to court records, his body brokerage company harvested heads, spines, arms and legs and then sold them, mostly for surgical training and other purposes. educational purposes.

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Hess was due to stand trial in three weeks along with her mother, Shirley Koch, who had also previously pleaded not guilty. Koch’s plea change hearing is scheduled for July 12.

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin made his sentencing recommendation, Hess’ attorney Dan Shaffer requested a lighter sentence of about two years in prison. Hess has been free on bail since his arrest.

During the hearing, the judge asked Hess to describe in her own words the crimes she had committed. Hess initially called the whole affair a “legal travesty”. When pushed by the judge, Hess agreed with the prosecution that she had defrauded her victims, although she declined to go into specifics.

Two family members and a friend of deceased persons whose body parts were sold without permission by Hess spoke at the hearing. They told the judge that although they were still emotionally reeling from the episode and wanted to know more about what happened, they welcomed the news that Hess had decided to plead guilty.

To boost sales, Hess targeted poor and vulnerable families as they grappled with a parent’s final days, according to government court documents.

“Meeting with the hospice on the 4th…opening the donor floodgates,” Hess wrote to a prospective body parts buyer in 2014. “They have four or five deaths a day. Get ready!!!!. .. How about a deal on fully embalmed thorns…$950?”

The sale of organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplantation is illegal in the United States. But the sale of corpses and body parts for research or teaching purposes, which Hess did, is not regulated by federal law.

Few state laws provide for regulation, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts. After Reuters’ investigation in 2018, the Colorado legislature stepped up state oversight.

Hess charged families up to $1,000 for cremations that never took place, prosecutors said, and she also offered others free cremation in exchange for donating bodies. Many families received trash can ashes mixed with the remains of various corpses, authorities said, and one customer received a concrete mix instead of a relative’s ashes.

FBI agents discovered that Hess forged dozens of body donor consent forms. In court papers, a former employee accused Hess of making $40,000 by mining and selling the gold teeth of some of the deceased, an allegation first revealed in the 2018 Reuters report.

The Reuters series revealed the shares of Sunset Mesa and Donor Services. Former workers told Reuters of questionable practices at the facility, including the dismemberment of bodies without the families’ knowledge or consent.

About a month after the Reuters reports, the FBI raided the site and state regulators closed the funeral home and crematory. A federal grand jury indicted Hess and Koch in 2020.

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Reporting by John Shiffman in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham

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