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The former owner of a funeral home was sentenced to 20 years in prison for dismembering and selling the corpses

Megan Hess, owner of Donor Services, appears during an interview in Montrose, Colorado, U.S., on May 23, 2016 (REUTERS/Mike Wood)
Megan Hess, owner of Donor Services, appears during an interview in Montrose, Colorado, U.S., on May 23, 2016 (REUTERS/Mike Wood)

The former owner of a Colorado funeral home was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for defrauding relatives of the dead by dissecting 560 corpses and sell body parts without any kind of permission. Megan Hess, 46, pleaded guilty to fraud in July. He operated a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, and a body parts entity, Donor Services, from the same building in Montrose, Colorado. The term of 20 years was the maximum allowed by law.

His 69-year-old mother, shirley koch, also pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Koch’s central role was to cut up the bodies, court records show.

“Hess and Koch used their funeral home on occasion to steal bodies and body parts using forged and fraudulent donor forms”said prosecutor Tim Neff in a court filing. “Hess and Koch’s conduct caused immense emotional pain to the families and next of kin.”

Hess charged families up to $1,000 for cremations that never happened

The federal case was sparked by a series of Reuters investigations between 2016 and 2018 into the sale of body parts in the United States, a largely unregulated industry. Former employees said Hess and Koch carried out unauthorized dismemberment of bodiesand a few weeks after a 2018 story broke, the business was raided by the FBI.

In their filing, prosecutors emphasized the “macabre nature” of Hess’s scheme, calling it one of the largest such cases in recent US history.

“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced in court,” US District Judge Christine M. Arguello said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado. “It is troubling to the court that defendant Hess refuses to take any responsibility for her conduct.”

The judge ordered that Hess and Koch be sent to prison immediately.

FILE PHOTO: The Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Donor Services building in Montrose, Colorado, US, December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Donor Services building in Montrose, Colorado, US, December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo/File Photo

Hess’s attorney said she has been unfairly vilified as a “witch,” a “monster” and a “ghoul” when instead she is a “broken human being” whose behavior can be attributed to a traumatic brain injury at age 18. . But Hess refused to speak to the judge.

Koch told the magistrate he was sorry and took responsibility for his actions. Twenty-six victims described his horror at finding out what had happened to their loved ones. “Our sweet mother, they dismembered her,” said Erin Smith, selling her shoulders, knees and feet for a profit. “We don’t even have a name for such a heinous crime.” Tina Shanon, whose mother was dismembered against her will, told the court: “I have worn many masks to cover the pain. I’ll never be okay.”

More than 200 families received cremated ashes from containers mixed with the remains of different corpses

It is illegal in the United States to sell organs such as hearts, kidneys, and tendons for transplantation; they must be donated. But the sale of body parts like heads, arms and spines, which is what Hess did, for use in research or education is not regulated by federal law.

Hess committed crimes, prosecutors said, when he defrauded relatives of the deceased by lying about cremations and dissecting bodies and selling them without permission. The medical training companies and other businesses that purchased Hess’ arms, legs, heads and torsos were unaware they had been obtained fraudulently, prosecutors said.

At his funeral home, Hess charged families up to $1,000 for cremations that never happened.prosecutors said, and offered free cremations to others in exchange for a donation of the body.

Prosecutors said he lied to more than 200 families, who received cremated ashes from containers mixed with the remains of different corpses.

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