"Dr. Mike" is Michael Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon from Fort Lee, New Jersey, who has been accused of illegally harvesting body parts from hundreds of corpses in three states to sell the parts to commercial tissue banks. He went door to door at funneral homes in search of cadavers he could loot.
On Thursday (Feb. 23rd), Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced indictments against Mastromarino, owner of Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J., and three other men alleging they ran an illicit body parts ring.
The case was "like something out of a cheap horror movie," Hynes said in a statement.
The indictments are the latest chapter in a widening scandal involving scores of funeral homes and hundreds of looted bodies, including that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke, who died in March 2004.
The indictment accuses Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli, Lee Crucetta and Christopher Aldorasi of conspiring to steal tissue from corpses of people who never gave permission to be donors, prosecutors said.
The 122-count indictment alleges the defendants forged death certificates and organ donor consent forms to create the appearance the tissue was legally harvested.
The defendants were charged with enterprise corruption, body stealing and opening graves, unlawful dissection, forgery and other counts.
Dr. Mastromarino went into the tissue business after losing his dentist license, prosecutors said. Nicelli, a funeral home owner in Brooklyn, became a partner with Mastromarino in the tissue company.
Prosecutors allege that Mastromarino secretly removed bones, tendons, heart valves and other tissue from cadavers at Nicelli's funeral parlor.
The scheme began to unravel in late 2004, when a detective responded to a report from the new owner of Nicelli's funeral home that he allegedly cheated customers out of funeral deposits. The detective grew suspicious when she saw a hidden operating room, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
From Newsday - How the horror happened:
When Det. Patricia O'Brien walked into the Daniel George & Son Funeral Home in Bensonhurst to investigate a larceny, she noticed something bizarre. On the second floor of the facility was what looked like a fully equipped operating room for surgery, complete with bright overhead lights...Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration closed Biomedical Tissue Services, saying it had evidence the company failed to screen for contaminated tissue. The agency warned that patients who received the company's products could have been exposed to diseases, although the FDA insisted the risk was minimal
Dubbed the "operating room" by detectives, the second-floor room was allegedly the place where funeral director Joseph Nicelli allowed ex-dentist Michael Mastromarino and two cohorts to remove body parts from corpses before being embalmed or prepared for cremation.
Investigators said that when Nicelli got a body in the normal course of his funeral business, he brought it into the building through the first-floor embalming room. The corpse was placed on a table and lifted hydraulically through a special opening in the second floor, where it was operated upon.
Once tissues were harvested, Mastromarino and his associates, Christopher Aldorasi and Lee Curcetta, then allegedly replaced missing leg bones with PVC piping. The bodies were then crudely stitched closed, said investigators. Bodies subject to visitation were then clothed and the lower parts of the corpses were hidden from view by closing part of the coffins, a normal procedure, said investigators.
Firms that received tissue from Mastromarino and his Biomedical Tissue Services:
- LifeCell Corp. of Branchburg, N.J.
- Tutogen Medical Inc. of West Paterson, N.J.
- Regeneration Technologies of Alachua, Fla.
- Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas
CNBC-TV devoted an episode of their series American Greed to the Mastromarino case. The episode was entitled, The Body Snatcher, and it premiered on March 11, 2009, at 9pm.
The show reveals now Mastromarino forged the consent forms for deceased persons in order to illegally harvest their tissue. He reportedly grossed over $4 million during his four year scheme.
Mastromarino was sentenced on June 27, 2008 in the Supreme Court of Brooklyn, New York to between 18 to 54 years in prison.
He went door to door in search of cadavers [Star-Ledger, Feb. 25, 2006]
Prosecutors offer proof of grisly body parts scheme [Newsday, Feb. 24, 2006]
Four indicted in stolen human tissue case [USA Today, Feb. 22, 2006]
FDA Orders Biomedical Tissue Services, Ltd., to Cease Manufacturing [FDA.gov, Feb. 3, 2006]
Body snatchers of New York [NY Daily News, Oct. 6, 2005]
Tissue product cos. recover from scare [BusinessWeek.com, Feb. 24, 2006]
Body snatchers tied to allograft firms? [CNN.com, Oct. 7, 2005]
Tissue from corpses in strong demand [CNN.com, Oct. 4, 2005]