June 13, 2008 / 3:45 PM / 11 years ago

Leader of body parts ring apologizes in court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey dentist behind a scheme to steal body parts from corpses, including that of British journalist Alistair Cooke, faced relatives of the dead in court on Thursday and apologized for the anguish he caused.

Alistair Cooke speaks at taping of his 2000th program 'Letter From America' at the British Broadcasting Company's Manhattan studio June 17, 1987. A New Jersey dentist behind a scheme to steal body parts from corpses, including that of British journalist Alistair Cooke, faced relatives of the dead in court on Thursday and apologized for the anguish he caused. REUTERS/Helayne Seidman

Michael Mastromarino, 44, in March admitted to leading a $4.6 million operation that stole body parts from funeral homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The ring dismembered more than 1,000 cadavers in unsanitary conditions, and sold parts to doctors who transplanted them into patients.

Mastromarino has pleaded guilty to body stealing, reckless endangerment and enterprise corruption. He faces 18 to 54 years in prison and was due to be sentenced on June 27.

“I am truly sorry for the pain that I have caused,” Mastromarino said, turning to face five people who were in court to deliver statements. “May God have mercy on my soul.”

Speaking outside the courtroom, relatives called his words hollow and urged State Supreme Court Judge John Walsh to put him in prison for the rest of his life.

“I felt like he had to say that. It wasn’t from his heart,” said Anthony Dumaine, 43, whose father, Thomas, had his body desecrated by Mastromarino’s ring in 2003.

“What people do for greed is unimaginable,” said Karen DelRe. Her father, James Thornton, had body parts removed in 2004.

One statement came from a recipient of the parts.

“The disgust factor is enormous,” said Stephanie Berardini, 36, who underwent periodontal surgery throughout her mouth using tissue and bone implants from Mastromarino’s cadavers.

As part of the scheme, a team of so-called cutters removed bones, skin and tendons in an unsanitary embalming room, prosecutors said.

There are three co-defendants. One pleaded guilty, another was convicted at trial and the third was awaiting trial.

Cooke, the former newspaper foreign correspondent and host of the PBS television show “Masterpiece Theatre” and BBC’s “Letter from America,” died in 2004 at age 95 in New York City.

Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Xavier Briand

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