DOZENS of body parts were found after cops unearthed a chilling message about “four or five deaths a day” in a sick funeral scheme.
Megan Hess, 45, a former funeral home owner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to mail fraud in a scheme where she dissected corpses and sold body parts without consent from the deceased’s family.
As part of the plea agreement, all of the other charges against Hess – which included five more counts of mail fraud and three counts of transporting hazardous material – will be dropped.
Hess used to operate the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home and a human body parts business called Donor Services in the same building.
She was admitted to federal court on Tuesday for defrauding several families who paid to have their loved ones cremated.
However, instead of doing so, Hess is accused of keeping heads, spines, arms and legs and selling them, according to court records.
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She originally pleaded not guilty and now prosecutors are asking she serve 12 to 15 years in prison, however, her defense attorney has requested a lighter sentence of two years.
Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, started Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation in 2009, a nonprofit donor services organization.
It was dubbed a “body-broker service” that operated out of the final home and sold body parts to third parties for surgical training and other medical purposes.
The pair were indicted by a grand jury in March 2020 and were accused of forging signatures on consent forms and misleading families about the remains of their loved ones.
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“I’m taking responsibility,” Hess said after pleading guilty. “I’m here to accept the plea. The families believe I went beyond the scope. of the consent forms.”
Customers were charged over $1,000 for cremations that were never fulfilled and Hess often targeted poor families as they struggled to make arrangements in their loved one’s finals days, read court docs.
Hess would also offer free cremations in exchange for body donations.
Prosecutors said families received ashes mixed with the remains of different cadavers and one client even received a concrete mix instead of the ashes of their loved one.
Federal investigators revealed that Hess forged multiple body donor consent forms with a former employee accusing her of earning $40,000 by removing and selling the gold teeth of some of the deceased, according to court docs.
“Meeting with hospice on the 4th…opening the floodgates of donors,” Hess wrote to a potential body-donor buyer in 2014.
“They have four or five deaths a day. Get ready!!!! … How about a deal on full embalmed spines…$950?”
Hess’ sentencing is tentatively scheduled for January 2023. Koch is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on July 12.
State regulators received several complaints of wrongdoing at Hess’ facility but Colorado state law prohibits them from entering a funeral home unless there are criminal charges.
Representatives Matt Soper and Dylan Roberts said they are working to make changes.
“One thing that I heard over and over from the families is it was like a second death,” Soper told CBS, adding that the state’s funeral home directors are the least regulated in the country.
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“It just kind of hits your gut,” he said. “You can’t believe that body brokering, selling body parts, chopping up body parts, giving people concrete, they’re not things you hear about in the United States of America.”
In the United States, it is illegal to sell organs such as hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant, however, the sale of cadavers and body parts for use in research or education isn’t regulated by federal law.