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Funeral Directors Charged As Ghouls

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Criminal charges have officially been brought against two local funeral directors accused of profiting off the dead. Officials said Tuesday that indictments had been handed down against Michael Mastromarino and Joseph Nicelli, the former embalmer of the English Brothers Funeral Home in Sheepshead Bay and former owner of the Daniel George Funeral Home. The two men were expected to surrender to authorities Wednesday. Both men face over 100 counts of grand larceny, forgery and fraud for their alleged participation in a body part stealing scandal that officials said made the duo filthy rich. The two men are accused of cutting into the bodies of recently deceased residents waked at the two funeral homes and removing bone and tissue they then sold for a tidy profit. Each time, the body parts were removed against the wishes of the decedent’s family, officials alleged. To make everything appear kosher on paper, the two suspects forged death certificates and other documents, making it appear that the family members wanted the body parts removed, investigators said. Officials said that charges have also been brought against two other men who assisted Mastromarino and Nicelli in harvesting the bones and organs. Once exhumed, the body parts would then become part of Mastromarino’s company, Biomedical Tissue Services, which sold the parts to local hospitals as material for orthopedic reconstructive surgeries and tissue replacement procedures. The investigation, which was first publicized in the Daily News last fall, reportedly began over a year earlier after Nicelli had sold the Daniel George Funeral Home to Robert Nelms and Debora Johnson. In November 2004, the 62nd Precinct received a complaint that Nicelli may allegedly have pocketed thousands of dollars in pre-paid funeral deposits from customers. According to New York State law, funeral directors are supposed to put that money in a trust, where it would accrue interest until the policy holder died. Directors would then use the money for the service, which would be held at their funeral home. On November 14, Catherine Caputo, a longtime area resident and a policy holder at Daniel George Funeral Home, died. Her nephew, Thomas Gaffari, came up from Virginia to look over funeral proceedings and soon found out that there was no pre-paid policy in her aunt’s name. Gaffari said that his aunt made over $4,500 in payments to the policy back in January 1992. The new owners were trying to find out what went wrong when the harvesting scam was uncovered. According to published reports, Nicelli allegedly still had some control in the funeral home when the complaints began to surface. Nicelli, a Staten Island resident, would allegedly acquire the bodies and take them to the Daniel George Funeral home, where Mastromarino allegedly removed the body parts and had them taken to his New Jersey firm to be sold with forged paperwork, making it appear that the organs were harvested with the consent of the family. He would then re-stitch the bodies with PVC pipe for viewings to make it appear that nothing had been removed, officials alleged. As of this writing, Robert Nelms and Debora Johnson have closed the Daniel George Funeral home.

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