Biomed company accused of stealing body parts
By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY
The owner of a New York biomedical company was charged Thursday with running
an illicit body-parts ring that stole bones, heart valves and other tissue from
the recently deceased and provided them for implant into the living.
Michael Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon and owner of BioMedical Tissue Services;
Joseph Nicelli, a Brooklyn mortician; and two other alleged co-conspirators were charged
with more than 100 counts, according to the Brooklyn district attorney's office.
All four pleaded not guilty.
WHAT BODY PARTS SELL FOR
Entire Body: $5,000 to tens of thousands, parceled out
Head: $550-$900 | Brain: $500-$600
Shoulder: $375-$650 | Elbow: $350-$850
Forearm: $350-$850 | Wrist: $350-$850
Miscellaneous Organs: $280-$500
Torso: $1,200-$3,000 | Torso to Toe: $3,650-$4,050
Eviscerated Torso (no organs): $1,100-$1,290
Leg: $700-$1,000 | Knee: $450-$650 | Foot: $200-$400
Source: USA Today / 'Body Brokers' by Anne Cheney
Mastromarino and Nicelli paid up to $1,000 per body to funeral home directors,
the prosecutor says, and bodies were cut up without family members' knowledge or consent.
PHOTO: Assistant District Attorney Josh Hanshaft of Brooklyn, N.Y., displays an X-ray
of a deceased person showing PVC pipe where bones should be
Defense attorney Mario Gallucci said Mastromarino "vehemently denies" the allegations.
"He is innocent and didn't do anything wrong," Galluci says. "His job was to take body parts, and he did."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has shut down Mastromarino's company
and issued a recall of the unused tissue the company provided to five tissue banks across the USA.
The agency recommended that doctors offer infectious disease testing for HIV,
hepatitis and syphilis to patients who received the tissue. The FDA says the risk
of the diseases' transmission from questionable tissue is minimal.
Among the potential victims of the body-parts trafficking ring was Alistair Cooke, a journalist
and the former voice of PBS' Masterpiece Theatre. In 2004, he died at age 95 of lung cancer
that had spread to his bones. His daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge, says a detective
told her that parts of his body were stolen.
"It's so ghoulish," Kittredge says. "Bodies are important. We've loved the bodies of our loved ones.
It's surprising to me how disturbing this has been."
It's unknown how many people may have received tissue implants, such as bone,
that could have been stolen. Several patients have filed lawsuits and say they fear
long-term health effects. Tissue banks test material before it is sent to hospitals,
minimizing health risks.
"This is particularly appalling and nauseating," says Jeffrey Lisabeth, of Mineola, NY.,
a lawyer representing a patient who says she received the stolen tissue.
"There are very serious public health implications."
Mastromarino forged documents to make the deceased qualify as donors — changing cause of death
from cancer to heart attack — and forging consent forms and the age at which death occurred,
according to the district attorney. He also replaced bones with plastic piping, according to the prosecutor.
Some of the charges against Mastromarino and the others include body stealing,
unlawful dissection and grand larceny.
BioMedical is licensed in New Jersey but did business in the Bronx.
A judge in Brooklyn set Mastromarino's bail at $1.5 million and Nicelli's at $250,000.