Mastermind in body parts scheme to plead guilty

January 16, 2008 9:06:44 AM PST
Prosecutors say he made millions of dollars as the mastermind of a ghoulish scheme: covertly carving up hundreds of corpses and selling the parts for dental implants, hip replacements and other procedures nationwide. Former oral surgeon Michael Mastromarino has agreed to plead guilty to charges of orchestrating the grisly dissections at a Brooklyn funeral home, his lawyer said.

Mastromarino "was facing a daunting battle, and he sees this as his best opportunity to accept responsibility and move on," the attorney, Mario Gallucci, said Tuesday.

The cadavers were looted without permission or proper screening for diseases, and an untold number of patients who were unknowingly exposed to infection, prosecutors said. Among the bodies was that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004.

Authorities released photos of exhumed corpses that were boned below the waist. Prosecutors said the defendants had made a crude attempt to cover their tracks by sewing PVC pipe back into the bodies in time for open-casket wakes.

The 44-year-old Mastromarino was charged in 2006 with enterprise corruption, body stealing, opening graves, unlawful dissection and forgery. Also charged were a Brooklyn mortician named Joseph Nicelli and two so-called "cutters," Lee Cruceta and Christopher Aldorasi.

Since then, seven funeral directors have pleaded guilty to undisclosed charges and agreed to cooperate.

Mastromarino, who remains behind bars, had been expected to go to trial in Brooklyn as early as next month. His lawyer said his client instead will enter the guilty plea on Jan. 22 and face 18 to 54 years in prison.

Mastromarino was owner of Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J. About 10,000 people received tissue supplied by the company.

As part of the deal, Mastromarino would cooperate with an inquiry by federal and state investigators into possible misconduct by the tissue processors that purchased the stolen parts, his lawyer said.

The processors "loved his tissue and encouraged him to get more and more," he said.

Gallucci said his client also expects to plead guilty to related charges in Philadelphia and hopes to serve any sentences concurrently.

Brooklyn prosecutors had no immediate comment; their Philadelphia counterparts did not immediately respond to a phone message.

Mastromarino's upcoming plea does not bring an end to the case, however.

Nicelli, who is recovering from a head injury, has been removed from the case until he recovers and was granted a separate trial. Meanwhile, Cruceta has pleaded guilty in connection with the Philadelphia and New York cases, according to a person with knowledge of the case who wasn't authorized to speak publicly.


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