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Colorado funeral home operators sentenced for selling body parts without permission

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Two Colorado funeral home operators who sold body parts or bodies in a scheme a prosecutor called “horrendous” were sentenced to jail on Tuesday, officials said.

Megan Hess, 46, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and her mother, Shirley Koch, 69, was sentenced to 15 years, the US District Attorney’s Office for Colorado said in a statement.

They operated the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, a town of about 20,000 in western Colorado, and stole and sold body parts or bodies from 2010 to 2018, prosecutors said.

In many cases, the families were unaware, and in others they specifically refused to donate their loved ones’ remains, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The cremated remains were returned to family members and depicted as their loved ones “when often this was not the case,” the statement said.

Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado. Google

Hess and Koch pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. The bodies or body parts of hundreds of people were stolen, the US attorney’s office said.

Hess started the Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation in 2009, then a donor services business, according to a plea agreement filed in his case.

The donor services business was created to sell human remains for scientific, medical or educational purposes, according to the agreement.

Lawyers for Hess and Koch did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.

Lawyers for Hess wrote in court documents that she had come to believe she was helping medical research through donations, but they acknowledged her motives were “warped”. Koch’s lawyers called hers a “misguided” attempt to help her daughter’s business and science.

Prosecutors said that in addition to stealing bodies and body parts, they sold the remains of those with infectious diseases, but falsely certified them as free.

“The conduct of the defendants was horrible and morbid and motivated by greed. They took advantage of many victims who were at rock bottom given the recent loss of a loved one,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan said in a statement.

A plea deal for Hess cites instances in which the legs, arms, heads or entire bodies of those who were to be cremated were sold instead. Some have been found, others not.

When whole bodies were sold, the cremated remains were returned to families other than their relatives. Whole bodies have been sold in hundreds of cases, according to the plea agreement.

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