A Colorado funeral home operator accused of illegally selling body parts and giving fake ashes to customers 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 pleading 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 Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose. They wereand charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of unlawful transportation of hazardous materials.
A grand jury indictment said that from 2010 to 2018, Hess and Koch offered to cremate the bodies and provide the remains to families at a cost of $1,000 or more, but many cremations failed. never took place.
Hess had established a nonprofit in 2009 called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation as a body brokerage service doing business as Donor Services, authorities said.
On dozens of occasions, Hess and Koch have transferred bodies or body parts to third parties for research without the families’ knowledge, according to the US Department of Justice. The transfers were made through the Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation and Donor Services, authorities said.
Hess and Koch also shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive or belonged to people who had died of infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and C and HIV, although they certified to buyers that the remains were disease-free, authorities said.
Hess and Koch initially pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Hess is expected to be tentatively sentenced in January. A plea change hearing for Koch is scheduled for July 12.
Prosecutors have 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 does not allow them to enter a funeral home unless there are charges criminals.
Reps Matt Soper and Dylan Roberts said they plan to change that.
“One thing I’ve heard over and over again from the families is that it felt like a second death,” Soper told the station.
He said funeral home directors in Colorado are the least regulated in the country.
“It kinda hits you,” Soper said. “You can’t believe that body brokering, selling body parts, cutting up body parts, giving people concrete, these aren’t things you hear about in the United States of America .”