NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The mastermind behind a multi-million dollar illegal body parts scheme, Michael Mastromarino, was finally sentenced in late July. He received 54 years behind bars on June 27. His two partners in crime will go to jail for 27 and 20 years, but there is a question on whether these stiff sentences will deter others.
Shawn Stradford, owner of Stradford Funeral Homes on Staten Island, told The Final Call he fears others will just try to figure out ways to profit from the lucrative body parts’ market.
“There’s just too much money to be made,” Mr. Stradford said.
According to prosecutors in Brooklyn, where the three men were brought to justice, one body can bring in as much as $10,000.
“This was an unusual case; and we are hoping that the stiff sentences will send a message to others,” Jerry Schmetterer, spokesman for District Attorney Hynes told The Final Call.
The case of the three men gained national notoriety when it was disclosed they had sold the body parts of PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater” host Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004. According to prosecutors Mr. Cooke’s bones were cut out before he was cremated and sold for $7,000.
Observers say body parts are a big business in the United States, usually for use in scientific research. Tissue, organs, tendons, bones, joints, limbs, hands, feet, torsos and heads are in big demand. Heads sell for $900, legs go for $1,000, hands and feet and arms for several hundred dollars a piece, according to the National Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Body parts can be used in transplants and operations to repair some sports-related injuries, dental work and some spinal operations.
Journalist Annie Cheyney, in her book “Body Brokers: Inside America’s Underground Trade in Human Remains” said the booming business suffers from lack of oversight. The federal government regulates procurement of organs and transplantable tissue, but does not regulate human remains used for research and education, she said.
New York is the only state that regulates trade in bodies for both transplants and medical research.
Elzira Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Funeral Consumer Alliance of Long Island and New York City, said the Brooklyn case brought to light the need for better regulation. “We are hoping to get a national registry in place, that requires all parts donated to be placed on the internet,” Ms. Hoffman told The Final Call.
“It is also important that people know that they are dealing with a responsible funeral home,” Ms. Hoffman added.
Mr. Stradford allows viewing of bodies before cremation. “You cannot take lightly the need to build trust with the consumer,” he said.