“No penalty is too harsh for these guys, for the just unbelievably craven nature of what they did”, said Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham in a news conference on October 4, 2007 regarding a ring of area funeral directors charged with selling 224 bodies at a price of $1,000 each. The purchaser was former oral surgeon Michael Mastromarino and former nurse Lee Cruceta, both of Brooklyn, New York.
Mastromarino had lost his license to practice dental surgery earlier this year because of drug charges not related to this incident, and also faces charges in the State of New York for the plunder of over 1,000 bodies. His cover was the now-closed Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, New Jersey, where he, Cruceta and a band of ‘body cutters’ took bones, tissues and skin to be transplanted in a number of unsuspecting patients the world over.
Also arrested and charged by the grand jury were funeral directors Gerald Garzone, 47, of North Wales, Pennsylvania; his older brother Louis Garzone, 65, of the Philadelphia area, and James McCafferty, 37, whose funeral establishment was also in Philadelphia.
Their indictment consists of literally thousands of counts of criminal conduct, including running an illegal business, theft of body parts and forgery. According to Mastromarino’s attorney, Mario Gallucci, his client intends to fight the charges filed against him because he feels that he was “victimized by the funeral directors.
The funeral directors wre in charge of getting consent. All he (Mastromarino) was supposed to do was come in and harvest the tissue, and to send the samples down to the processors.” The investigation of Biomedical Tissue and the three funeral directors was a year and a half in the making before charges could be filed. Cruceta, the former nurse, was in charge of running the ‘cutting crew’, who separated the body parts and skin tissues at the Fort Lee facility.
According to Abraham, “One of the cutters said it was like the back of a butcher shop, it was so dirty”. According to the grand jury’s findings, bodies were often left laying around in adjacent alleys or inside the Biomedical Facility for days, often unrefrigerated.
Nearly all of the corpses were those of poor African American or Hispanic victims. Their families had paid for cremation services;Instead, the funeral directors signed off on death certificates stating that the victims suffered heart attacks or from blunt force trauma (hence the forgery charges). The body parts and skin were then (illegally) sold to legitimate hospitals and medical schools throughout the world for use in a variety of transplant operations.
Interestingly, coverage of the indictments within the Philadelphia media outlets received very nominal coverage. Perhaps this fact has nothing at all to do with the city of Philadelphia itself, or maybe it does. Currently, the city has one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the nation. Even something as horrific as body snatchers doesn’t rate as much of a shock as it once did, and as it still deserves.
The city is wildly famous not only for its Quaker background, its Main Line sense of prosperity and primness, and its existence as the birthplace of the soft pretzel, TastyKakes and cheesesteaks. Philadelphia has long had the mantle of civic corruption at pretty much every level of government attached to its politics. Should we read into this that Philadelphia is such a grossly corrupt city that even the illegal harvesting of body parts doesn’t raise an eyebrow or two?
Maybe, in the larger scheme of things, an incident like this doesn’t warrant the outrage and anger it would have provoked a generation, or even a decade, ago. We’re surrounded every day by the vivid, in living color images of the war in Iraq, the quest to save Darfur and its people, nature’s revenge in the form of tsunami, hurricanes, floods.
After the horrible mass murder at Virginia Tech University, the images of dog brutality during the Michael Vick trial, and movies like “Saw”, “Saw II”, with their almost pornographic images of torture and murder, the indictment of the three funeral directors seems almost small in comparison. While the images of body parts harvesting have made their rounds in contemporary horror movie genre, in this case, we didn’t have to see it for ourselves. Pity the poor police officers and undercover agents who did…