Funeral Director Takes Plea in 'Body Part Scheme'

Megan Hess faces up to 20 years after pleading guilty to mail fraud
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2022 12:58 PM CDT
Funeral Director Takes Plea in 'Body Part Scheme'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/jure)

For one funeral home operator in Colorado, it wasn’t enough to charge bereaved families for cremation and burial services. Megan Hess allegedly struck on what authorities call an "illegal body part scheme" to pad her income. According to the New York Times, Hess, 45, has pleaded guilty in a Grand Junction, Colo., federal court to a single count of mail fraud. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors will drop eight other criminal charges, but she still faces up to 20 years behind bars. Her mother, Shirley Koch, is also implicated. Both originally pleaded not guilty to all charges; Koch's change-of-plea hearing is July 12.

Prosecutors say Hess led the scheme between 2010 and 2018 by establishing a nonprofit "body broker" as an offshoot of her business, Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors. She and her mother "sometimes obtained consent from families to donate small tissue samples or tumors of their dead relative," as the Times puts it. Whether consent requests were accepted hardly mattered, authorities said, and the operation involved a lot more than tissue samples. In hundreds of transactions, or "transfers," they allegedly sold parts including heads, arms, legs, and even whole bodies for scientific and medical use. The extra income enabled them to undercut the competition's prices, authorities said, thus increasing their supply of bodies to be cremated.

They were also accused of often delivering urns that didn't actually contain the remains of the deceased and allegedly shipped parts they certified as disease-free, even though they'd tested positive for infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, per CBS News. A former employee also accused Hess of harvesting and selling $40,000 worth of gold teeth, per Fox Business. At the plea hearing, Hess said, "I'm taking responsibility. ... The families believe I went beyond the scope of the consent forms." Victims of the scheme were unimpressed, saying the plea was too generous, per the Daily Sentinel, which also notes Assistant US Attorney Jeremy Chaffin said Hess' statements and the remorse she showed (or lack thereof) would be considered during sentencing in January. (Read more funeral home stories.)

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