A Colorado funeral home operator accused of illegally selling body parts and giving clients fake ashes has pleaded guilty to mail fraud in federal court.
The Daily Sentinel reports that Megan Hess faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison after entering the plea Tuesday in Grand Junction. Other charges against Hess will be dropped under a plea agreement, the Sentinel said.
Hess, 45, and her mother, Shirley Koch, operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose. They wereand charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.
A grand jury indictment said that from 2010 through 2018, Hess and Koch offered to cremate bodies and provide the remains to families at a cost of $1,000 or more, but many of the cremations never occurred.
Hess had created a nonprofit organization in 2009 called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation as a body-broker service doing business as Donor Services, authorities said.
On dozens of occasions, Hess and Koch transferred bodies or body parts to third parties for research without families' knowledge, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The transfers were done through Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation and Donor Services, authorities said.
Hess and Koch also shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonged to people who died from, infectious diseases including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, despite certifying to buyers that the remains were disease-free, authorities said.
Both Hess and Koch originally had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Hess is tentatively set to be sentenced in January. A change of plea hearing for Koch is scheduled for July 12.
Prosecutors recommended a sentence for Hess of 12 to 15 years.
that state regulators had received complaints of wrongdoing at the Montrose facility but state law doesn't them to enter a funeral home unless there are criminal charges.
Representatives Matt Soper and Dylan Roberts said they planned to change that.
"One thing that I heard over and over from the families is it was like a second death," Soper told the station.
He said Colorado funeral home directors are the least regulated in the country.
"It just kind of hits your gut," Soper 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."
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