Two Colorado funeral home operators who sold body parts or bodies in a scheme a prosecutor called “horrifying” were sentenced to prison Tuesday, authorities said.
Megan Hess, 46, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and her mother, Shirley Koch, 69, was sentenced to 15 years, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado reported. said in a statement.
They operated Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, a city 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 the remains of their loved ones, according to the US attorney’s office.
The cremated remains were returned to family members and represented as their loved ones “when that was often not the case,” the statement said.
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 federal prosecutor’s office said.
Hess created the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home Foundation in 2009 and later 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.
Hess’s lawyers wrote in court documents that he came to believe he was helping medical research through donations, but acknowledged his motivations were “distorted.” Koch’s lawyers called theirs a “misguided” attempt to help her daughter’s business and science.
Prosecutors said that in addition to stealing bodies and body parts, they sold remains of people who had infectious diseases but falsely certified that they were disease-free.
“The conduct of the defendants was horrible and morbid and was motivated by greed. They took advantage of numerous victims who were at an all time low given the recent loss of a loved one,” US Attorney Cole Finegan said in a statement.
A Hess plea agreement cites cases in which legs, arms, heads or entire bodies of those to be cremated were sold. Some were found and some were not.
When whole bodies were sold, the cremated remains were returned to families other than those of their loved ones. Entire bodies were sold in hundreds of cases, according to the plea agreement.