tv Body Snatchers of New York MSNBC October 26, 2014 2:00pm-3:01pm PDT
i'm william sherman. i'm 62. i'm a reporter for the "new york daily news." my connection to the body parts case is i broke the story. i was having a drink, or a couple of drinks, with an attorney who's a friend of mine and he said, i know you're not going to believe this but there's a funeral home in brooklyn where the owner along with another guy has been cutting up corpses and taking the bone and the tissue, putting
it in a refrigerator and selling it to three publicly owned companies. it was a story that wrote itself. and it was a kind of an edgar alan poe horrific, repelling, curious horror story that involved real people with tragic consequences. >> brings us the latest on this one-of-a-kind case in new york. >> local people are charged with opening graves, body stealing and illegal dissection. >> relatives of the deceased are outraged. >> probably the most hideous horrible crime of the last 100 years.
evil people with absolutely no conscience whatsoever. >> lawsuits were filed all over the country in a multimillion dollar scheme that prosecutors call medical terrorism. >> my name is michael mastromarino. i would describe myself as a quadruple a personality that's driven. back in '01 i opened up biotissue technologies and biomedical tissue services. tissue banking is in essence an industry where they recover tissues, bone, skin, tendon from someone after they die. >> my name is lee cruceta. i'm 37 years old. and i'm a licensed practical nurse and also a certified tissue bank specialist. i was referred to michael mastromarino by my former director in the operating room. she told me he was a great person, an entrepreneur, and she
told me he was starting a tissue bank at the time. >> lee had a great amount of experience working with another tissue bank. he was a nurse, he was in orthopedic surgery, knew sterilization technique. knew recoveries very well, knew his anatomies very well. >> i took pride in recovering tissue, something that i -- it was my calling. >> most people know of hearts and kidney donations. that's organs. and there's a tissue side of it where there is bone, tendon and skin. >> one donor can help up to 80 people. >> a tissue bank at funeral homes, it was an area that was pretty much untapped in new york. i figured he was going to come up with a pretty good niche, a pretty good market. and i just figured that you know, we were going to do well.
>> my name is josh hanscheff. i'm an assistant district attorney in kings county or brooklyn, new york. my position is i'm a bureau chief of the rackets division. it's the best division in the office. on a simplistic level, it's like playing cops and robbers everyday. a case comes in, whoever is on gives a screening. that's what happened this day. a police officer said i have a complaining witness or victim that wants to speak to you about something going on at a funeral home. they had purchased daniel george funeral home. and they came in to tell us a few of the things that were going on there. they were more interested in some finances that weren't being handled properly. but during the conversation, she happened to explain to me that there's a bone program going on upstairs in this secret room. that kind of got my attention from an incredible story perspective, thinking it's probably not true, but tell me. so she proceeded to tell about you know, they would bring
bodies in and this doctor would come and take bodies out and go out the backdoor. i think she called him dr. mike, if i remember. a lot of people called him dr. mike. we spoke with some of the people in the neighborhood and they said there was always activity going in and out the back door. there was like a lot of activity going on for a funeral home. >> my name is anthony dumain. i am the son of thomas dumain. i live in brooklyn, new york. a place called garrison beach. i was born in coney island, brooklyn. and i do construction for a living. my father was being treated at the v.a. bay bridge hospital in brooklyn, new york. he had bladder cancer. i guess his body just had enough, and i watched him take his last breath. just took a lot out of me. but you know what? i knew he was in a better place.
at least i thought that's where he was going, was a better place. the next day, i went to daniel george funeral parlor, that's on bath avenue, to make arrangements for my father to be laid out. the owner of the establishment kind of made everything go smoothly, made me feel good and comforted me. i actually picked out a wood type coffin because my father being that he was a carpenter and things like that, loved wood. i didn't want to go with the aluminum, because it kind of like was cold and just -- there was no warmth to it. and picking out a coffin for your father is not something that you want to do. there was a lot of things i wanted to stipulate to, as far as i did not want to have my
father embalmed. i just really wanted him to be at peace. i didn't want him touched or i didn't want him having -- just didn't want his body touched anymore. he just had enough. >> tissue banking is legal throughout the united states. as long as there's consent from the legal next of kin. >> the procedures that we were doing that cadaver or patient, i still called it a patient, you know, was prepped and draped like it was in an operating room. the patient is lying on a table, in a supine position, meaning on its back. and there are certain tissues that are going to be recovered. incisions are made in certain areas of the body. and certain tissue types are removed. >> we recovered patella tendons, achilles tendons.
>> you know, the femur, the fib tib. the tibia, the fibula. >> the humerus, radius ulnus. we also did hemi pelvises. >> we put the tissue on ice and then the tissues would then go back to the lab and from the lab, they would be sent to these processing facilities. they would be processed, sterilized and go from distribution centers and to hospitals and ultimately, the patient gets the olograph. >> my name is dana ryan. in 2003, my family and i were living in ohio, and i was working for a private catholic university. the medical problems started in 2001. it was a herniated disc and it was quite bad. apparently the disc had compressed down so much that it
was bone against bone, and the recommendation was that it be built back up and packed with various bone, including from my own right hip, as well as cadaver bone. i recall very well when he used the word "cadaver bone," i thought, ew. i actually received two separate pieces of tissue, bone, from two separate cadavers. this was used to fuse my lower spine. after the surgery, i felt fantastic.
>> after my father had passed on, his funeral was at the daniel george funeral parlor on bath avenue. all the family was there and things like that. but i guess you always want more people there. but it was nice, though. he had plenty of beautiful flowers. so people definitely did care about him. i thought he could finally rest. >> when you look at the whole body as the whole industry, a body is probably worth about $200,000. yeah. about $200,000 on the open market, everything -- everything being given between organ and tissue donation. >> it's a billion dollar industry. >> it's like any other business
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we started in brooklyn, at the famous daniel george funeral home. and you know, we started with nothing, and we grew into a premier recovery tissue bank. you know, as a recovery agency, we had contracts with processing companies so we would send rti specific tissues and we would send life cells specific tissues and tutogen, the other company, specific tissues. and these were all wall street companies. as we were growing the company,
our infrastructure was growing. we reached out to other funeral directors in the boroughs, manhattan, brooklyn, bronx, we expanded to new jersey. we just progressed along getting the tissues that regeneration technologies wanted. they were like, we need more, we want more, we need more. supply and demand. >> my name is michael vecchione, i am chief of the rackets division in the brooklyn district attorney's office. as i was sitting here in my office, josh came in and said, i have something, i'm not sure what this is, but let me tell you a little bit about it. they told me about an owner of a funeral home who had come in and who had just purchased a funeral home. turns out to be the daniel george funeral home. in her kind of tour of the funeral home, she had gone up to
the embalming room which we later called the cutting room and she saw that there was a body being worked on. she mentioned she found fedex receipts from the old owner and that they were sending these bones to a place called rti. in august 2005 i subpoenaed documents from rti, in hopes of finding something from those documents and at about the same time, i received some documents from daniel george funeral home. now i start to pore through the documents that we have. we started to realize there were many companies and many funeral homes and many bodies. i hit a point where i realized this case is getting bigger than myself, that i need some help, and i went for the best. >> my name is trish mcneill. i'm a bureau chief in the king's county district attorney's office rackets division. i was co-counsel with josh investigating the case. we had many, many, many documents. we had rooms full of documents. at that point, i didn't really know what was going on. i couldn't believe it. they had this special room where
they were dissecting bodies and taking the bones and the tissue from the bodies. i didn't know what they were doing with them. i knew that they were giving them to processing companies for use in transplant, but i couldn't imagine whether or not this was something that could be done, couldn't be done. >> when i was first subpoenaed, was it a shock? yeah, i was absolutely concerned that i was being subpoenaed. that day, i called my lawyer. >> my name is mario gulucchi. i am a criminal defense attorney and i represented michael mastromarino in his criminal cases. he came into my office with a subpoena. i sat down and i read the subpoena. it was from the king's county or brooklyn, new york, district attorney's office. i didn't understand what they were looking for because i personally, i was never aware of the tissue harvesting business. so i said to michael, my initial reaction is what are you doing? you can do this? this sounds like something
that's out of a frankenstein movie, to be quite honest with you, i felt the same way that everybody else felt when they first heard about it. then he explained to me, yes, it's done every day, this is a legal business. and then i began to do my own research on the industry. so that was my first meeting with michael. >> like any case, if you don't know it, you have to educate yourself. if it's a medical case, you have to speak to a medical doctor. if it's a bone case, you have to speak to the people who process bone. then i learned it was legal. so it became like, well, i didn't know that. but let me take a look at it. it's been documented you cannot pay for bone, you can't buy bone. so what they call it is paying for recovery fee. the companies that process bones pay for the service of recovering their bone.
sure enough, i just happened to be looking through documents to understand what was in those boxes, i looked at two documents that supposedly should have had the same person's signature on it and they were two different signatures. >> the paperwork on its face made sense. it looked like there were family members who signed and gave consent, that there was proper signatures, there was proper information. but once you look behind it, it absolutely made no sense. >> that kind of set the alarm off that something's going on here. we have somebody forging somebody's signature. the interesting part about being in rackets is that, since you're doing a case proactively before the arrest takes place, you almost kind of see the headline that's going to be coming out. you may not know whether it's ghoul or body snatcher or what's going to happen, you know this is a story or it's going to be. once a reporter finds out, it's going to be on the front page. >> it was october 7th, 2005, and the headline read, "body
snatchers of new york," exclusive. that packed a tremendous wallop. >> that was the first of many front page articles on this case. >> it was a monster story. >> this sounds like something from a horror film. bodies that were supposed to be prepared for burial or cremation were cut open. bones were illegally removed from bodies and often replaced with pvc pipe so families wouldn't notice. >> i can go up there and describe exactly what i did and the media can go up there and describe what i did and there would be two different stories with ghouls, and chopping up bodies and limbs all over the place. they made it sound like we desecrated their loved ones. >> i was upset. the last thing i want is for my family or my friends to think of me in that way. that's not who i am.
>> all the work for the past 20 years in the medical/dental profession, and to have my name disgraced and family disgraced, it hurts, it certainly does. i actually never heard of that word until this story broke about being a ghoul. i am not a ghoul, nor is my staff. it's crazy all this happened. god. i just can't believe this is my life. you know, when you stand back, you think about everything, it's like wow. john, you got a napkin or something, please? my kids, i think of my children because i really am a good person.
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michael mastromarino had myself and every lawyer in my office completely convinced that everything he was doing was completely legal. now mind you, i don't always take what my clients tell me to be truthful. i went and did my own research and what we learned was that, yes, what michael was doing was legal. i truly believed the brooklyn district attorney's office had no idea what was going on and we could march in there and explain to them that they have good intentions of protecting society, but they're wrong, that this is something that will better society. >> at one point, michael mastromarino and his lawyer said
that they were going to come in and speak with me, which, as an investigative attorney, many people do. you want to hear what their story is. >> we sat down with what i believe was josh, trish, and michael told them his story. >> that first meeting, he was in complete denial and complete, i had no idea it was happening. i listened to his story, i let him get up and walk out, knowing at some later time we would have a future meeting about what really went on. once i was able to verify that these people probably did not give consent to give over their bones, then we were set up to say, now, we can approach families. because i'm pretty sure that
what we're claiming probably happened did. the 99.9% said i never gave any permission for anybody to touch my loved one. >> now, i guess you would say the nightmare really began. >> what we were able to determine about anthony's father, thomas, was that he was a victim whose bones were taken when he was at daniel george. the immediate thing i wanted to do is say, we need to verify this by looking at the bodies that were buried. >> they finally asked me if i would exhume my father. basically when they exhumed him and they did the autopsy, they basically found that the bones in his body had been taken out and had been replaced with pvc piping. how did i feel about that? i kind of feel like i let my guard down and i didn't protect him. i feel very sad that, with the type of life that he lived, that that's how he had to go out. >> after we had gathered all the documents and after we had kind of laid everybody out, it looked as if a thousand corpses were
invaded. >> my name is susan cooke kitridge. and i live in shell bourn, vermont, in the united states, and i am a minister. my father was alastair cooke, and his body was stolen by mastromarino and chopped up and sold. >> alastair cooke was actually sitting in the files for a while before i happened to look closer at the name and something rang a bell that his name was something of a television name or was one that people knew. >> we had sprinkled his ashes or
what we at the time, believed to be his ashes in central park, just five days after he died. >> my name is karen del rey, i live in hazlet, new jersey. my dad's name was james thornton sr. michael mastromarino called him bm04l125. what that code means is biomedical for bm, '04 the year my dad passed away, l for the 12th month of the year, and 125 125 is the 125th body they harvest that had month. >> he's ruined thousands of people's lives. he's ruined family members who are horrified and have nightmares to this day about what happened to their family members. >> it's difficult to get through every day. there's not a day that goes by that i don't think about him and what they did to him, and the hardest thing now is i can't get to any of the good memories.
>> what mastromarino did was to light a flame under my imagination that will never be stilled. even though it has been years since this happened, and i try and put it out of my mind, when i do revisit it, all i can think of you know, he died at midnight. so it was dark and someone stole his body in the middle of the night. >> my father was skinned, and they took 900 square inches of skin, every bone they could and mutilated him. that breaks my heart. okay, this is for the game. the nfl trusts duracell quantum to power their game day communication. flag nineteen, set hut! abort! abort! he's keeping it.
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in new jersey after returning from west africa. that nurse, casey hickoks says she's been denied basic human rights, kept in a tent area with a port-a-potty and no shower and given little information. the hospital says she has access to a computer and getting regular updates. more news later. bodies destined for funeral preparations were desecrated with the illegal removal of valuable tissue to be used for medical procedures. because the documents on these tissues were forged, it was often made to appear that the donors were younger and healthier, than means that some of those people who received tissue could have received tissue that was contaminated. >> my father's body was in perhaps the worst possible state for anybody to be used for tissue donation. he was 95 years old. he was very frail. he had lung cancer that had metastasized to his bones.
boy, that would be the last bones i'd want in my body if i needed it. >> there were over 1,000 donors, basically, and i would say the vast majority of those there was something incorrect on those forms. now we're learning that not only did they steal body parts, but they took body parts from people who weren't healthy. >> it was a frightening thought to me, especially when i learned that they were not doing the proper screening procedures. they were taking tissue from very, very unhealthy people. >> if we weren't doing good work, i have to believe the companies we were dealing with would have asked us to stop sending tissue to them. >> every piece of tissue that's down at that processing facility gets tested and mechanically tested and cultured.
so if there was a problem or an incestual problem with bad bone going down there, within a week we would have a phone call. instead, it was just the opposite. what's it going to take us to get more of your bone because your tissue is phenomenal. >> dear dayna, i'm writing this letter to make you aware of information that was recently provided to me by the federal food & drug administration. unfortunately, it seems the company that provided the donor bone cannot document the attainment of proper consent and screening for the bone from the donor or the family of the donor. the fda and cdc recommend you be offered access to appropriate infectious disease testing. the testing would include a test for hiv, hepatitis and syphilis. i remember getting that letter like it was yesterday.
and i was reading it, and it was just -- i couldn't even comprehend what i was reading. >> michael mastromarino. chris aldorasi and lee cruceta and joseph nicelli were set to turn themselves in, the end of february of 2006. and they did. sure enough, they came in, they were arraigned in supreme court in brooklyn. they came in, there was cameras everywhere. there was family members who were irate. it was a very tense day, but it was also a good day from the point of view of saying we've indicted them, now they're going to face charges. >> i turned myself in. i didn't get arrested, i turned myself in with my attorney 10:00 at night and walked into the d.a.'s office in brooklyn and i stayed there overnight. and then, you know, they had the parade of me walking into court with them hand-to-hand around
me, they were all on tv, it was their big day, had the press conference of holding up the pvc pipe and saying, look what he did and it enraged the public. and again, lack of knowledge of what really transpires in a tissue recovery agency, how we recover is no different than how anybody else recovers. >> the indictment consisted of 122 counts. the most serious charge faced was called enterprise corruption. >> that charge alone could get him 25 years in jail, let alone the other counts. they were using enterprise corruption you typically see in a bookmaking case, a loan sharking case. mobsters. you don't see it in a tissue harvesting business that is intertwined with multinational corporations that are traded on the stock exchange. >> it was kind of a blur. you know, i knew i was in trouble. i kept telling myself, you know,
it was inconceivable, enterprise corruption never heard of that charge until i was in court. >> four men accused of stealing bones from corpses and selling them to be used in transplants plead not guilty late today. >> bail has been set for the four defendants with mastromarino's the highest at $1.5 million and passports have also been revoked for fear they are a flight risk. >> the battle lines were drawn today and we expect to fight. >> they were very confident they were going to beat the case and their attorneys repeatedly told us we didn't have a strong case and that we wouldn't be able to prove it. >> he kept telling me everything was going to be fine. that they had no evidence. we felt that he could just blame it on the funeral directors and walk away from this. >> michael pled innocence up until the day i saw something that i had not seen before.
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two weeks before christmas, in 2006, i got the test results back. i had been exposed to hepatitis b. it's an inflammation of the liver. it's very serious. i understand sometimes fatal. >> we were moving forward towards preparing for trial and seeing how we were going to present this much information, these many thousands of pages of documents to the jury. we were educating ourselves every day to find other ways to
prove our case and make sure that it was strong. >> i never understood what this smoking gun was until much later in the case, but eventually, the smoking gun was dna information. >> initially, we were puzzled on how the tainted tissue could get past the health checks. the processors did keep some of the tissue that was sent to them. so at that point, we basically sought out the assistance of our medical examiner's office in new york city, and they were wonderful in helping us conduct all the dna testing. >> in order to send tissue to a processor, the processor needs to do an evaluation on the tissue itself. so the first thing that you send to the processor is a sample of blood. the processor then processes the sample of blood, determines whether or not the person has a disease, such as syphilis, hepatitis, aids, what have you,
and then they call up michael and they say, the blood is good. the blood is diseased. i don't want the tissue. what was happening was the blood dna didn't match the tissue dna and that none of this was matching. >> they had extra vials of blood. it was in that bag, pull it out when necessary. they knew it was already checked and clean and acceptable to the processing companies. they called it, deemed it the okay bag. >> they were sending down tissue that they had no idea on whether the tissue was taken from somebody who died from hepatitis or aids or syphilis or any one of those diseases. i met up with michael and i presented to him the dna. i said, mike, what is this? ah, don't worry about it. no. we got to worry about it. what are you talking about? what is it? you've got to explain this to
me. no, no, no, that's nothing. that's made up. the processes, you know these processes, they want to put this all on me, they're doing everything wrong, this is their way of putting it all on me. i didn't believe him. i didn't believe him. i knew at that point that he was lying to me. >> in hindsight, looking back, i should have just went in and said, yeah, you know, i did this, i did a, b, and c, but i didn't. i did not tell my lawyer. my lawyer was under a different presumption as -- the d.a. knew i was lying but i don't believe my lawyer knew i was lying. i regret not telling him from the start. the truth always comes out. >> it was over. the wagons had completely surrounded us. >> i had to face what i had done. i do admit to signing consent
forms and forging other documents. like i said, i made a lot of bad choices and just trusted the wrong person, and if i could go back and listen to my instincts again, like i said, i know i wouldn't be here. i regret the day i met michael, and i regret doing everything that i've done to hurt other people. and the pain that i've caused my family. >> mastromarino changed his plea to guilty when i guess he realized there was nowhere for him to run. he realized we had done our homework and we had him. so i think that's what pushed him. but he took us right up to the very end, literally pretty much on the eve of trial is when he
decided to plea. >> why did i decide to plead guilty in the end? i decided to plead guilty because i was guilty. and we were going to go to trial, and i had enough. yes, there was a crime, forgery was done, cases were taken without consent, but my intention was never to hurt anyone, knowing that the tissue was going to be sterilized and irradiated and all possible transmissible possible diseases would be dead. i was comfortable with that. r vd infrastructure, and dedicated support, free you to focus on what matters. centurylink. your link to what's next. maestro of project management.
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people, and then his ambition gets the best of him, especially in this case, where he got so driven, that he believed he was smarter than everybody else. and that there were a lot of regulations and rules that were put into place that michael believed were unnecessary. >> did i take the best medical social history? no. was some of that paperwork forged? yes. now, did an hiv case come along? i don't know. but, i can tell you that in the sterilization process, the processing techniques that these companies use, it irradiates everything anyway. hepatitis, syphilis, hiv, and now this thing with cancer. well, the bone has cancer. the patient died of cancer, so the bone has cancer, so now the recipient has cancer. that's just not true.
these are where i have problems with the industry and the so-called smart guys make up these rules. and i'd like to sit down with these smart people and talk with them. >> my name is john heeley. i'm a physician and orthopedic surgeon, professor of orthopedics at cornell university medical school in new york and the chief of orthopedics at sloan-kettering cancer center in new york city. >> dr. heeley was the expert that basically said what michael mastromarino did and the type of tissues that he took put the transplant recipients in harm's way. >> bone that is osteoporotic or has had cancer or other disease is not as strong. it's not going to stand up long enough. it doesn't have the surface area to heal, and so, that's a serious problem. the hiv testing, for example, was not conducted in the standard way. these donors could have been
infected and the processing not been sufficient to cleanse that bone and make it safe for transplantation. several of them actually had cancer. >> cancer to cancer -- again, let's go back to cancer. we spoke about this earlier. unless it was lymphoma, leukemia, breast cancer doesn't affect the bone. brain cancer doesn't affect the bone. lung cancer, not unless it is metastatic cancer, there is no infection in the bone. >> however, the cancer will have eroded that bone, it will have weakened that bone. the treatment that the patient has received for that cancer will have compromised the tissue in a variety of ways. and i can just speak as a person, not as a doctor, but i wouldn't want to receive that bone myself. and so, just on that gut level, it fails. >> hepatitis b is not an easy
disease to catch. it involves an exchange of bodily fluids. and i can assure everyone that the only bodily fluids i've exchanged is with my husband of 18 years. >> mastromarino pleaded guilty in march to dozens of felony coun counts, including grand larceny. prosecutors say he made about $5 million by moving bodies from funeral homes. >> i would like to take this opportunity to apologize for the pain and grief i have caused all the donor families and donor recipients. i am truly sorry for all the pain i've caused you. i'd also like to apologize to my family for all the pain i've caused them through this tumultuous three years. i am truly, truly sorry from the deepest parts of my heart. may god have mercy on my soul. thank you. ♪ >> i guess the first time i saw
mastromarino, i guess there was hatred at the time because i definitely had hate flowing through my veins. i definitely did. but i just also felt sorry for him. i really did. it's like, you know what, people can do anything in life, and that's what you chose to do. i don't understand that. >> the judge imposed sentence and he sentenced him from 18 to 54 years in jail. >> the sentence is a harsh, harsh sentence. >> oh, i think mastromarino's sentence was much lighter than mine. mine is life. at least he gets a chance to go up for parole. >> this entire enterprise, this entire affair was motivated by
greed, pure and simple. mastromarino was motivated by greed because he made millions. his two assistants made a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. the funeral directors who sold the bodies to mastromarino for $1,000 each, no labor involved. just take the body, here's 1,000 bucks. i mean, there's greed. and the publicly traded companies that bought this material from mastromarino with few questions asked and resold it to hospitals and people in need of this transplant material, that was greed also. >> it was all about greed. this whole case was all about greed. i would say most of the cases we do somehow come down to money and this was no different. he took something that again was a good thing for us as society a noble thing and all he saw was dollar signs. >> yeah, of course, money plays a part. of course, families, everybody
was doing well. these companies are doing well. you know, they're wall street companies. the day i got indicted, they stopped trading on the stock market. i mean, if that doesn't show you some influence, i mean, i don't know what does. >> michael mastromarino, crook and scum though he is, he is a cog in the wheel. >> he is an engine that was running and bone was the fuel and everybody wanted it, and the industry, as far as the industry goes. and that's the truth, and i was a part of that. ♪