The Colorado funeral home operator, accused of stealing body parts and selling them to medical and scientific buyers, making hundreds of thousands of dollars on what authorities called an “illegal body-sharing scheme,” pleaded guilty Tuesday to mail fraud. according to the Ministry of Justice.
The woman, Megan Hess, 45, the main figure in the plan, was assisted by her mother, Shirley Koch, who is in her late 60s, prosecutors said. As part of a plea deal, eight other criminal charges against Ms Hess were dropped. She could face up to 20 years in prison.
“I have exceeded the scope of the consent and I am trying my best to make it right,” Ms Hess said in a US court in Grand Junction, Colorado on Tuesday, according to The Daily Sentinel. “I take my responsibility.”
Ms. Koch has pleaded not guilty, but she has scheduled an amendment to the plea hearing for July 12.
Here’s how prosecutors said the scheme worked: From about 2010 to 2018, Ms. Hess was in charge of Donor Services, a nonprofit “body broker service,” and Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors, which offered to arrange cremations, funerals and burials in the small western Colorado town of Montrose.
According to an indictment in the case, Ms. Hess and her mother sometimes received permission from families to donate small tissue samples or tumors from their deceased relative. On other occasions their request was denied, and sometimes they did not raise the subject at all.
In any case, the documents say the funeral directors would sell heads, torsos, arms, legs or entire human bodies on hundreds of occasions. They often delivered cremated remains to families with the implication that they were the remains of their relatives, when in fact, according to the indictment, they were not.
The income the mother and daughter earned from selling body parts enabled them to become the cheapest option for cremations in their area, increasing their supply of cadavers, authorities said. Still, authorities said, families typically paid $1,000 or more for a cremation that often never took place.
The settlement involved falsifying paperwork, such as signatures on authorization forms for donating body parts, and misleading buyers about the results of medical tests performed on the deceased, court documents said. Ms. Hess changed lab reports to say that, according to authorities, people had tested negative for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis when they had actually tested positive.
Ms Hess’ lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. A Justice Department spokeswoman and a lawyer for Ms Koch declined to comment on the plea deal.