By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Body parts scheme ringleader pleads guilty in Pa.
Placeholder Image
    PHILADELPHIA — A man who made millions of dollars by plundering hundreds of bodies sent to funeral homes and selling their often-diseased parts and tissues to medical companies pleaded guilty Friday to a raft of charges that could send him to prison for life.
    Michael Mastromarino, 44, of Fort Lee, N.J., pleaded guilty to 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 of dollars off the scam, which also involved funeral homes in New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. His attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., described the scheme as driven by greed — one that was hard to stop because it was so lucrative.
    ‘‘You just keep taking the money,’’ Peruto said after the court hearing Friday.
    The bodies, including that of ‘‘Masterpiece Theatre’’ host Alistair Cooke, were carved up without permission and were not medically screened. They were sold around the country for dental implants, knee and hip replacements and other procedures.
    About 10,000 people received tissue supplied by Mastromarino’s company, New Jersey-based Biomedical Tissue Services; some say they have contracted diseases from tainted body parts.
    Mastromarino previously pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption, body stealing and reckless endangerment in New York, where he was sentenced in June to 18 to 54 years in prison in June.
    He did not make a statement in court Friday. He previously apologized to families in the New York area whose loved ones’ bodies were dissected and, in some cases, reconstructed with plastic pipes in order to make them presentable for viewing.
    In Philadelphia, authorities say Mastromarino went into business with James McCafferty and brothers Louis and Gerald Garzone because they collectively owned a crematorium.
    Reconstructing plundered corpses was too expensive and time-consuming, so Mastromarino wanted to use bodies scheduled for cremation, Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos said Friday.
    He paid McCafferty and the Garzones $245,000 for at least 244 cadavers between February 2004 and October 2005, Manos said.
    Mastromarino would then send a ‘‘cutting’’ crew, led by former nurse Lee Cruceta, to Philadelphia to dissect the bodies. Cruceta pleaded guilty to abusing corpses and other charges in January.
    Manos described a macabre operation in which bodies were left unrefrigerated, sometimes for days, while awaiting the cutting crews. The corpses’ ages, causes of death and next of kin were falsified on various paperwork because Mastromarino was unconcerned about their conditions and whether permission had been obtained to harvest the parts, she said. Diseased tissue that was initially rejected by a medical supplier was often relabeled and resold, she said.
    McCafferty has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft charges and is awaiting sentencing. The Garzones have pleaded not guilty are scheduled to go to trial Tuesday on abuse of corpse, theft and related offenses. Mastromarino will testify against them if asked, Peruto said.
    ‘‘They were all in this together, and it is a tragic situation,’’ Peruto said.
    Gerald Garzone’s lawyer disputed that.
    ‘‘It’s inaccurate to say we were all in this together,’’ attorney William J. Brennan said Friday. ‘‘Mr. Mastromarino masterminded this entire operation.’’
    Louis Garzone’s attorney declined to comment.
    Mastromarino has no sentencing agreement with Philadelphia authorities and faces a maximum of life in prison and more than $18 million in fines. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 22 and is seeking to have any Pennsylvania prison sentence run concurrently to his New York punishment.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter