From staff reports
A man who made millions of dollars by plundering hundreds of bodies sent to funeral homes and selling their parts and tissues to medical companies pleaded guilty Friday to multiple 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.
About 10,000 people received tissue supplied by Mastromarino’s company, New Jersey-based Biomedical Tissue Services, authorities said.
In 2006, 30 patients at St. John’s Regional Medical Center and one from Freeman Hospital West were notified that they might have received a bone or tissue transplant that was not fully tested for use in transplant patients, and they had to be tested for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis.
The bones and tissues were harvested from hundreds of cadavers by Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J. In many cases, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the families of the deceased did not know the tissues and bones were being harvested.
BTS sold its product to five companies. Two of the companies, Life Cell Corp., of New Jersey, and Regeneration Technologies, of Florida, provided bones and tissues to St. John’s and Freeman.
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.
Some of the recipients of the tissue nationwide allege they have contracted diseases from the tainted body parts.
St. John’s officials said at the time that most patients had been tested and there was no spread of any disease. Brooke Haneborg, a Freeman spokeswoman, said Friday the hospital had no additional information on the issue, but officials were not aware of any disease that had spread in that patient, either.
Ronda Rogers, of Columbus, Kan., said at the time that she received a bone harvested from a cadaver that had not been screened for diseases or infection. Rogers’ attorney, Robert Myers, was planning to file a civil product-liability and negligence lawsuit in federal court against the companies that supplied the replacement vertebrae from questionable sources. Myers has an office in Columbus.
Neither Rogers nor Myers could be reached for comment on Friday after news of the guilty plea broke.
“I felt violated, devastated, you know, everything you can think of,” Rogers said at the time. She was a St. John’s patient.
Mastromarino had previously pleaded guilty to enterprise corruption and other charges in New York.
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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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