Mastromarino, at center of ghoulish `body parts’ scandal, dies
His ring illegally `harvested' bones; he died of bone cancer
When Dr. Michael Mastromarino, the lead defendant in the infamous Brooklyn “body parts” trial, died on Sunday of bone cancer, some saw poetic justice.
From 2000 to 2005, Mastromarino, a former dentist, headed the New Jersey-based company Biomedical Tissue Services, which cut up corpses provided by funeral homes to “harvest” bones, organs and tissues for transplant.
While such an operation isn’t technically illegal, it was alleged and eventually proven in Kings County Supreme Court that Mastromarino and his cohorts forged family-consent forms, the ages of the deceased and their medical conditions. In civil suits, many plaintiffs later alleged that they or their relatives had gotten sick after receiving disease-tainted human tissues in transplants.
The most prominent victim of the scheme was Alistair Cooke, longtime host of Masterpiece Theater, who died at age 95 in 2004. Although Cooke had wanted to be cremated, his family members later charged that Mastromarino and his crew had forged papers allowing Cooke’s bones and tissues to be removed.
Much of the “cutting” was done in a secret room at the former Daniel George and Son funeral home in Bensonhurst, owned by Joseph Nicelli, one of the defendants. The scheme was discovered after the home was sold, during a dispute between the former and then-current owner.
It was also discovered at the time that several of the corpses handled by the funeral home had their leg-bones removed, crudely replaced by plastic pipe, and were then stitched up again.
Mastromarino pleaded guilty to conspiracy in Brooklyn Supreme Court and was sentenced to 18 to 54 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty in Philadelphia to related and received a concurrent sentence of 25 to 58 years. He was being held at Fishkill Correctional Facility’s Regional Medical Unit.
“It’s full circle, baby,” Vito Bruno, whose father’s organs were sold by Mastromarino after his death from kidney cancer in 2003, was quoted as saying by the Daily News. “Karma’s a bitch.”
Nicelli and Brooklyn-based “cutters” Christopher Aldorasi and Lee Cruceta, received minimum sentences of about a decade each in their various trials.
Because the ring also arranged for shipments of corpses from funeral homes outside the New York metropolitan area, the scheme had ramifications elsewhere. In 2007, according to Philadelphia magazine, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office indicted Mastromarino, Cruceta, and local funeral-home operators Louis Garzone, Gerald Garzone and James McCaffrety Jr.
“Of the more than $3.8 million earned by Biomedical Tissue Services, Mastromarino and Cruceta from their enterprise, $1 million came from Philadelphia corpses,” the magazine said.
Biomedical Tissue Services also set up a satellite branch in suburban Rochester, N.Y. In 2007, the Rochester District Attorney’s Office charged three funeral home directors and four former employees of Biomedical with body stealing, unlawful dissection and other crimes.
In Brooklyn, Mastromarino and the other three defendants were tried on the charge of conspiracy.
In 2010, after the scandal, then-Governor David Paterson signed a bill that added the words “tissue” and “organ” to the current statute against unlawfully dissecting, stealing or receiving a dead human body in New York.
Mastromarino, who had lived in Fort Lee with his wife and two children, received the last rites two weeks ago, according to reports. He was also the co-author of “Smile: How Dental Implants Can Change Your Life.”
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