Colorado Funeral Home Owner Accused of Selling Body Parts Pleads Guilty
By: April Carson
A funeral home owner in Colorado pleaded guilty to practicing secretive dissection and selling body parts without the consent of mourning relatives.
Megan Hess, 45, ran the Sunset Mesa funeral home in Montrose and a human body parts firm called Donor Services from the same location, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to defrauding at least a dozen families who'd paid to have their dead relatives cremated.
Prosecutors said Hess sold body parts without the consent of grieving families.
She harvested heads, spines, arms, and legs instead of cremating the bodies and then sold them, according to court records.
"The defendant's callous scheme not only defrauded families who entrusted her with the respectful disposition of their loved ones' remains, but also violated federal law and potentially placed unsuspecting recipients of these body parts at risk," Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said in a statement.
Prosecutors are seeking a 12- to 15-year sentence for Hess, who has previously pleaded not guilty. She was released on bail in 2020 after her arrest. The defense attorney has asked for a two-year sentence, which the court will decide.
Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation was founded in 2009 by Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, as a "body-broker service" from the funeral home which would sell body parts to third parties - mostly for surgical training and other educational purposes.
In some situations, Hess and her mother, Shirley, were accused of providing cremated remains of another person to other families, pretending to return their loved one's ashes. Other people were charged $1,000 or more for a cremation that did not happen.
"This kind of business is using people's loved ones as a commodity to make a profit," said Matt Blake, the agent in charge of the Denver office of the FBI, which led the investigation.
Hess ran the foundation and was responsible for its daily operations. From 2012 to 2018, Sunset Mesa sold more than 1,000 cadavers and body parts without the consent of donors or their families, according to court documents.
At least some of the people who donated their bodies to Sunset Mesa did so with the intention that their remains be used for medical research or education. But court documents allege that Hess "knowingly falsified paperwork" to make it appear as though the foundation had consent from donors when it did not.
The pair fleeced people out of $1,000 or more for cremations that never took place. To increase revenue, Hess targeted low-income and vulnerable families in the midst of making funeral plans for their relatives,' according to court documents. In addition, she offered free funerals in return for a body donation.
Prosecutors said that several families were given ashes that had been combined with the remains of different people. One client was given a concrete mix instead of their loved one's ashes, according to investigators.
According to court documents, Hess obtained body donor permission forms by forging dozens of them. According to court records, a former employee alleged that she made $40,000 by extracting and selling the gold teeth of some of the deceased as part of the macabre business plan.
The lawsuit also revealed how Hess charged families $195 to donate their bodies, as well as an extra $300 if relatives desired their loved ones' cremated remains back.
It is unlawful to sell organs for transplant in the United States, but the sale of cadavers and body parts for use in research or education is not regulated by federal law.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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