Today’s news:

Accused Body Snatchers Face Judge

Four men accused of looting usable tissue, bones and body parts from deceased Brooklyn residents were finally brought to court Thursday. Michael Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli, Lee Crucetta and Christopher Aldorasi all surrendered to the Kings County District Attorney’s office last week, ending a four-month investigation into one of the most gruesome cases ever handled by Charles Hynes’ office. “What happened here – stealing tissue from the dead and selling it for transplant without the consent of a family member – is like something out of a cheap horror movie,” said Hynes while announcing the indictments against the four men on February 23. “But for the thousands of relatives of the deceased whose body parts were used for profit, and the recipients of the suspect parts, this as no bad movie. This was the real thing.” After surrendering to authorities Wednesday, the four men were hit with a 122-count criminal indictment, charged with enterprise corruption, forgery, grand larceny, unlawful dissection and body stealing and opening graves. If convicted of the enterprise corruption charge, each man could face up to 25 years in prison, prosecutors said. Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon and head of Biomedical Tissue Services in New Jersey and Joseph Nicelli, the former owner of the Daniel George Funeral Home, were accused of hatching the profitable plan, where they carved up the bodies of corpses set to be waked, taking tissue and bones and selling them to hospitals throughout the world with forged paperwork. Body parts cannot be sold. They can only be donated with the expressed, written consent of the donor before the person dies, officials said. To make everything appear kosher on paper, Mastromarino and Nicelli forged death certificates and other documents, making it appear that the deceased wanted his or her body parts donated. Crucetta and Aldorasi were charged with assisting Mastromarino and Nicelli in removing the body parts and then re-stitching the bodies up, replacing the stolen bones and organs with either PVC piping or plastic polyvinyl chloride to make it appear that the bodies hadn’t been tampered with at the viewing. The removed parts were sold to local hospitals as material for orthopedic reconstructive surgeries and tissue replacement procedures. Officials said that Nicelli, who also owned a body transporting business, would be alerted about a death and pick up the body to be taken to a local funeral home. Instead, prosecutors allege, he took the bodies to a “secret room” at Daniel George & Sons at 1852-56 Bath Avenue in Bensonhurst, where Mastromarino removed body parts. The investigation, which was first publicized in the Daily News last fall, reportedly began over a year earlier when the new owners of the Daniel George & Sons Funeral Home found some startling inconsistencies with Nicelli’s bookkeeping. 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. 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, officials said. Police believe that Mastromarino was responsible for defiling 1,077 corpses. Investigations into sixty of these cases led to charges. During the investigation, six bodies were exhumed. “The conduct uncovered in this investigation is monstrous,” said Rose Gill Hearn, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, which joined the DA’s office in the probe. “It is a family’s worst nightmare that a loved one entrusted to the care of a funeral home was actually defiled. The deceased and their families have not been able to rest in peace.” “This ghastly conduct has sent a ripple of fear to anyone who has had a medical implant,” Hearn said. “But I say to them, justice will be served.”

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