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Philadelphia undertakers admit selling corpses

Alistair Cooke speaks at taping of his 2000th program 'Letter From America' at the British Broadcasting Company's Manhattan studio, June 17, 1987. REUTERS/Helayne Seidman

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two former Philadelphia funeral directors on Tuesday admitted to selling cadavers to a ring that cut them up and sold the body parts to hospitals for implants.

Gerald Garzone and his brother Louis Garzone pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired with others to take bones, skin and organs from 244 bodies in their funeral homes between February 2004 and September 2005.

They were part of a scheme that plundered 1,077 bodies in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania without the permission of relatives in an operation that netted the conspirators $3.8 million.

One of the bodies belonged to Alistair Cooke, the British foreign correspondent known for his “Letter from America” for the BBC and as host of the PBS television show “Masterpiece Theater”. He died of cancer in 2004.

Michael Mastromarino, 44, a New Jersey dentist, was sentenced in June to a minimum of 18 years and a maximum of 54 years in prison after admitting to leading the scheme.

Some of the bodies were infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases, and used in transplants by at least five Philadelphia-area hospitals, prompting hundreds of lawsuits by the families of transplant recipients.

The bodies were dismembered by a team of “cutters” in unsanitary conditions in a scheme a grand jury report last October called “ghoulish, greedy, dangerous and criminal.”

Howard Kaufman, an attorney for Louis Garzone, said the two men had made a decision to plead guilty independently of earlier guilty pleas by three co-conspirators.

Judge Glenn Bronson of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas set sentencing for October 22.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and David Storey