7 People in N.Y. Accused of Illegally Removing Body Parts From Corpses

Three funeral home directors and four former employees of a biomedical supply company secretly removed skin, bone and other body parts from dozens of corpses awaiting cremation at Rochester funeral homes, prosecutors said Thursday.

An indictment unsealed Thursday charges the seven with body stealing, unlawful dissection and other counts. The most serious charges carry maximum 20-year prison sentences.

"Put yourself in the position of one of the family members," said Monroe County District Attorney Michael Green. "What we've heard from them is that this is just absolutely devastating."

Four of those charged worked at a suburban Rochester branch of now-defunct Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J.

The company's owner, former dentist Michael Mastromarino, and three other men were charged last year with removing bone and tissue without the permission of families from 1,077 bodies at more than a dozen funeral homes in New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York City and Rochester. All have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said Mastromarino made millions of dollars by selling body parts to biomedical companies that supply material for common procedures, including dental implants and hip replacements.

In October, seven funeral home directors linked to the scheme pleaded guilty in New York City to undisclosed charges and agreed to cooperate. They included the director of a funeral home that took parts from "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke after his death in 2004, defense attorneys say.

Biomedical Tissue Services operated its only satellite office in the Rochester suburb of Brighton and paid funeral homes a standard fee of around $1,000 to lawfully harvest body parts.

Investigators said that employees Darlene Deats, 46; Kevin Vickers, 53; Nicholas Sloyer, 34; and Kirssy Knapp, 29, removed bone and tissue without proper consent from 36 corpses in 2005 — including 23 bodies at Thomas E. Burger Funeral Home in the suburb of Hilton, 11 bodies at Profetta Funeral Chapel in the suburb of Webster and two bodies at Serenity Hills Funeral Chapel in Rochester.

They were indicted on body stealing and other felony charges along with Burger's former funeral director, Jason Gano, 31; Profetta's director Scott Batjer, 37; and Serenity Hills' director Serrell Gayton, 59.

"He did not knowingly commit a crime," said Sloyer's attorney, Paul MacAulay. "He had no reason to doubt that any of the bodies that they were involved in were being processed without a valid consent."

Five of the seven pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing and were ordered released, with Gano's bail set the highest at $10,000. Vickers, who is attending his brother's wedding in England, was ordered to appear in court next week, and a bench warrant was issued for Knapp's arrest after she failed to show up.