A mother-daughter team in Colorado have now both appeared in court to answer charges of mail fraud in connection to the "body broker service" they allegedly ran out of the funeral home that they owned.
The daughter has pled guilty. The mother pled not guilty but has a change-of-plea hearing scheduled next week.
Megan Hess, 45, and Shirley Koch, late 60s, owned Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado, and allegedly established a nonprofit called Donor Services at the funeral home to collect body parts and cadavers and sell them to buyers in the medical and scientific community.
According to the indictment, Hess and Koch did receive permission from family members to collect small tissue samples and tumors from some decedents in their care. Often, however, the women never sought permission but took parts or full bodies anyway: heads, torsos, limbs, or entire bodies, the New York Times reported. The outlet also reported that the women delivered remains to families that were not their loved ones.
Because of the profits generated by this scheme, which ran from 2010 until 2018, Sunset Mesa Funeral Home was the least expensive cremation option for folks in Montrose, a city of about 20,000 people approximately 60 miles from Grand Junction. The Daily Sentinel implied that Hess and Koch took advantage of poor and desperate families to keep a steady inventory.
In some cases, the women also forged documents submitted to buyers so that bodies that had previously tested positive for diseases like HIV and hepatitis were listed as having tested negative.
Hess has recently pled guilty to mail fraud, and due to a plea agreement with prosecutors, eight other counts of mail fraud and transporting hazardous material will be dropped.
“I exceeded the scope of the consent, and I’m trying to make an effort to make it right,” Hess said in United States District Court in Grand Junction on Tuesday. “I’m taking responsibility.”
Hess, considered the leader in the scam, faces up to 20 years in prison. She is currently scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Though family members victimized by Hess and Koch believe the plea agreement is too light, some are grateful that Hess had to admit her guilt in open court.
“I would like to hear Ms. Hess admit what she has done instead of a jury finding her guilty,” Debra Schum said.
Assistant U.S. attorney Jeremy Chaffin has said that he will take Hess' statements in court and any demonstrations of contrition into consideration when making sentence recommendations.