Plea sought in stolen body parts case

April 4, 2008 6:13:10 PM PDT
A former oral surgeon who admits he trafficked in stolen body parts is seeking a deal in Philadelphia that would run concurrent to his 18- to 54-year sentence in New York. But prosecutors here are balking at any 2-for-1 deal.

They want Michael Mastromarino to serve an additional 20 to 40 years in Philadelphia, where they say his team of cutters plundered at least 244 corpses.

Mastromarino, 44, remains in New York custody after his guilty plea there last month. He did not appear at a pretrial hearing in Philadelphia on Friday, but defense lawyer Charles A. Peruto Jr. vowed to push for concurrent sentences.

The dispute will likely be left for Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson to resolve.

"My job is to make sure he doesn't do additional time just because there are bodies in Pennsylvania," Peruto said.

He and Assistant District Attorney Bruce Sagel expect Mastromarino to plead guilty to just a few of the approximately 1,700 counts charged, such as running a criminal enterprise and conspiracy, they said.

Mastromarino owned Biomedical Tissue Services, a New Jersey company that shipped bones, skin and tendons to tissue processors.

About 10,000 people received tissue supplied by BTS.

He has agreed to help locate records for the families and transplant recipients suing tissue banks over the often-diseased parts, Peruto said.

Mastromarino will also testify, if necessary, against his alleged underlings, three funeral home operators from North Philadelphia, Peruto said.

Brothers Louis and Gerald Garzone, along with James McCafferty, together ran Garzone Funeral Home.

A grand jury indictment charges that they were paid $1,000 per corpse to let Mastromarino's "cutters" hack up bodies, without the families' knowledge or permission. The lucrative parts were then sold to the tissue banks for dental implants, knee and hip replacements and other procedures around the country. Mastromarino made millions on the scheme, prosecutors say.

The looted bodies in New York include that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke.

In Philadelphia, most of the bodies were scheduled for cremation by the Garzones.

Agnes Folger believes the body of her 81-year-old husband, Joseph, was plundered before his April 2004 cremation. Prosecutors cannot be certain of her claim because of the lack of records or a body, but the Philadelphia woman believes the missing age and cause of death on a death certificate signed by Gerard Garzone confirms her fear.

Mastromarino often filled in phony information on death certificates to make the parts appear usable, the grand jury charged.

"My husband was a World War II veteran of three years," said Folger, who brought a small U.S. flag to the court hearing. "He came home in one piece from the war. ... But (Garzone) took my husband's body parts."

Louis Garzone, 65, of Philadelphia, Gerald Garzone, 47, of North Wales, and James McCafferty, 37, of Philadelphia, have pleaded not guilty and, along with Mastromarino, are set for trial on Sept. 2.

Lee Cruceta, 35, of Monroe, N.Y., has admitted to being Mastromarino's lead cutter, and faces a sentence of about 6 1/2 to 20 years for crimes in both states. Another cutter, Chris Aldorasi, is on trial in New York.

Mastromarino pleaded guilty to 14 counts that include enterprise corruption, body stealing and reckless endangerment. As part of his plea with New York prosecutors, he agreed to forfeit $4.68 million.

Several funeral home operators in New York have also pleaded guilty.


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