A Colorado-based funeral home director has been sentenced to 20 years in prison stemming from a litany of charges — including fraud and illegally selling the body parts or bodies of approximately 500 individuals whose families did not consent to that practice.
Megan Hess, 46, who supervised the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado, recently pleaded guilty to mail fraud and aiding and abetting.
Also, Hess's mother, Shirley Koch, admitted to similar charges of mail fraud and aiding and abetting, as part of her own plea deal.
Koch, 69, was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Colorado courts.
In the state of Colorado, it's legal to sell human remains. However, per a Reuters investigation, government agencies confirmed that "hundreds of the bodies sold by Hess had been stolen."
Also, the victims' families did not consent to how Hess could use the deceased.
"[Shirley] Koch and Hess neither discussed nor obtained authorization for donation of decedents' bodies or body parts for body broker services," the Justice Department said in a statement, while reiterating that, in some documented cases, the victims' families expressly declined to donate the deceased bodies to Hess or anyone from the body broker industry.
In Koch's plea deal, Hess allegedly told families of the deceased at Sunset Mesa Funeral Home their loved ones would be cremated. Instead, Hess sold body parts — or the entire bodies, in some cases — on the grounds of "scientific, medical, or educational purposes."
Hess also allegedly ran a body broker business on the same tract of land as the funeral home in Montrose.
In essence, Hess had created a business structure that ensured she'd "always have a fresh supply of stolen bodies which she could later sell to unwitting customers" who were not aware the dead bodies had been stolen rather than donated, according to the government's sentencing statement.
It's worth noting: In June 2018, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a Colorado law prohibiting funeral home operators from also running body-donation businesses with the deceased.
In that aforementioned sentencing statement, government investigators also noted that "many of the families" who paid for cremations of loved ones were given returned remains that did not involve the deceased family member.
"The defendants' conduct was horrific and morbid and driven by greed," Cole Finegan, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, said after Tuesday's sentencing hearings for Hess and Koch.
"They took advantage of numerous victims who were at their lowest point, given the recent loss of a loved one. We hope these prison sentences will bring the victim’s family members some amount of peace as they move forward in the grieving process," added Finegan.
Hess and Koch were also charged with shipping the remains of people "who had tested positive for or died of infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B and C," according to The Washington Post.
The Post also reports that Hess and Koch "falsely told buyers that the bodies or body parts were free of disease, thereby violating rules on the transportation of hazardous materials."
In the state of Colorado, it's illegal to sell or ship remains of infected people.
According to the Post, an FBI official familiar with the investigation lamented how Hess and Koch "continued in their atrocities for years, showing no remorse or contrition even after they were exposed."
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