Monday, June 05, 2006
Snatching body parts for profit
Imagine going in for a routine operation only to find out months later that the tissue and bone used in your surgery could kill you one day.

That's exactly what happened to Robbie Zappa of Georgia. He had neck surgery last summer. In December, he got a letter from his doctor urging him to get tested for syphilis, hepatitis A and B, and even HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Zappa is healthy so far. He's lucky.

So why does Robbie Zappa have to get tested for these diseases?

Prosecutors in New York City, hundreds of miles away from where Zappa lives, say toxic tissue was harvested illegally from corpses and sold to the medical community. Four men from New York City are charged with "enterprise corruption" for stripping dead people of tissue and bone to make a buck in the body parts business. It's a billion dollar industry.

Prosecutors say the alleged kingpin in this body snatching scheme, Michael Mastromarino, forged donor forms and changed medical histories in order to pass off diseased tissue as healthy to tissue banks and hospitals.

Mastromarino's defense attorney, Mario Gallucci, says his client denies illegally harvesting body parts. Gallucci says Mastromarino inspected bodies at the funeral homes' request and collected the tissue to be tested. But, Galluci insists, it was the processors that determined what tissue was diseased or viable for sale to the medical community. At no point, Gallucci says, was his client ever told any tissue was diseased.

As for consent forms, Gallucci says, "The funeral home would fill out that form and give it to the doctor." He says Mastromarino had no way of knowing if they were fraudulent.

One of the bodies allegedly harvested belonged to Brooklyn, New York-native Dannette Kogut. She died of ovarian cancer last year. Her sister, Wendy Kogut, told me her last dying wish was to be cremated. She was, but likely not all of her. Now, Wendy is living with the guilt of not carrying out her sister's last wish.

Wendy says someone stole her sister's leg bones and pelvic bone and even parts of her skin before she was cremated. She says police told her the forged donor form was signed by her grandfather, who has been dead 30 years. Wendy says the form also reads that her sister died of "blunt trauma" instead of ovarian cancer, which could be one way the masterminds behind this scheme passed-off Danette Kogut's tissue as healthy.

Her diseased tissue, like the tissue from hundreds of others, has likely made its way to other countries. The prosecutor told me this body-snatching scheme could reach as far away as Europe.

It is believed the men behind this scheme made as much as $4 million selling harvested bone and tissue without consent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says parts from a single body can be used in as many as 250 different people and can sell for as much as $250,000.

This whole situation makes you think twice about going in for surgery, doesn't it? I think about all the people whose lives may be affected by this. There are victims on both sides here: Those with relatives whose corpses may have been illegally harvested, and those like Robbie Zappa, who will wonder for years to come if the tissue implanted inside him will make him sick.
Posted By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent: 6:06 PM ET
  29 Comments
OMG! Take these people and string them by their toenails!!!! Not only is this disrespectful to those who have died but also to those who are living. Unbelievable....
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 6:28 PM ET
What has been done in the name of the almighty dollar is truly disgraceful. The lack of regard for the welfare of fellow-humans, is totally unacceptable. I pity all of the patients who received diseased tissue. People get these type of surgeries done to save their lives. They should not have to worry about secondary problems, because of greed.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy Walker Rocklin, California : 6:35 PM ET
It's a sad sign of the times when grotesque things like occur. The scary thought is that this group is just a small fraction of the people out there doing all around the world.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer Lee Oshawa, Ontario : 6:56 PM ET
As a cancer survivor and a recipient of a donor bone, I was outraged to read this story. I know how much I suffered both before and after the surgery and can not fathom how a person could knowingly bring more disease and pain onto another whose condition is already grave. No punishment is harsh enough for these people!
Posted By Anonymous Kristin, Merrillville, IN : 7:08 PM ET
This is absolutely disgusting and a disgraceful diservice to those who wish to hopefully enter the after life (if there is one)with their whole body.
This is not the first time that I have heard about this and I do have to believe that there are 'supposedly' honest rich and important folks making money from this, just as they do in the drug trade. They pretend to be honest and preach values, when in reality they are the most corrupt people on earth............
There is absolutely no reason on earth why this disgraceful lack of values by folks in high places can not be stopped; this really makes me very angry!
Posted By Anonymous Mike Gash, Oceanside, CA : 7:11 PM ET
YIKES!!!! SCARY!!!! Remember the movie "Coma"? I am totally freaked,creeped, and grossed out!
Posted By Anonymous B.A. Taylor Nacogdoches, TX : 7:39 PM ET
There should be a special sentence for those found guilty of this crime. Not only are they guilty of theft, their crimes have effected the lives of hundreds of people who must now live with the fear of future illnesses carried by the diseased tissue.

Just like enhanced sentences for hate crimes, there should be an enhanced sentence for this crime too. Both cause people to live their lives in fear.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 7:57 PM ET
As horrific as this may all be, why doesn't no one take into account that the hospitals and surgeons who perform these operations have shared responsiblity into this illegal trade-off of body parts. I could be wrong, but should the hospitals check to see the origins of where these organs, tissues,etc. are coming from? And should tests be done BEFORE anyone is a recepient of body parts to rule out HIV/AIDS, syphillis, hepatitis, or any other disease which would make someone ill ?
Posted By Anonymous Angie, St.Louis, MO : 8:14 PM ET
There are more than two possible victims from this unethical behavior. Many researchers use tissues, organs, bones, and many other body parts for many things. They base many decisions, gather
results, ect on the knowledge that this tissue came from this situation,
ect. This practice hurts alot more people each time it is done than just the damage you think of at first.
Posted By Anonymous Shirley Laughbaum, Wolf Point, Montana : 9:14 PM ET
This is much like an episode of "Bones" on Fox this past season. Watching that episode you were able to see a young girl who was given a bone graft and from the graft received cancer that would eventually kill her. Reading this story makes me realize how that same situation is going to happen to so many people - it makes me so sad for everyone affected, the donors, their families, and those that receive the transplants.
Posted By Anonymous Jenny, Longmont, CO : 12:07 AM ET
As horrific as this is, there is so much more going on in our country. Rotten things which affect the living, such as people dying in the Arizona desert because they got lost trying to get into the States for a job. They test blood before they use it; why don't they test these tissues to ascertain they aren't carrying a deadly disease? These parasites only exist because somewhere up the line someone is asleep at the switch, allowing these maggots to operate.
Posted By Anonymous Michael Safdiah, New York NY : 12:24 AM ET
While already living in a world that is
short on moral beliefs and few things
are regarded as sacred anymore, I now
read this. How frightening for those
who have received transplants and the
many who wait for a donor. To inflict
this type of pain on the families of both sides deserves the same barbaric
and aggressive punishment they gave
to others. I hope the funeral homes
are investigated as well. Surely there
is a safer system than they have exemplified.
Posted By Anonymous Sue, Wauchula, Fl. : 3:03 AM ET
Yes this is unthinkable, but we shouldn't be surprised anymore at the fact that there are always low-lifes around who seek to profit off other peoples' misery, illness or death no matter what the cost to anyone else. Literally.

I'm just glad that: a) for every low-life there is someone decent who tries to protect the public and: b) a large network like CNN is educating people about this - please keep it up. Those guys need to be locked up for life and if the current laws don't support that, then maybe the laws ought to be rewritten.
Posted By Anonymous Nikky, London, UK : 4:04 AM ET
Where is the regulation for body parts distribution. Don't the hospitals or medical providers need to know where the body parts originated from before acceptance and paying such an exorbitant price?
Posted By Anonymous Melody Harbor Springs, Michigan : 7:17 AM ET
Predators like these men have effectively destroyed our peace of mind. Think back to the 80's when people were frightened to receive blood in a hospital due to the lack of an effective process for screening for the HIV virus. Now the potential is clear that the life-saving donated organ that a patient receives may indeed be life-threatening. Almost makes it seem safer to just stay home and die with dignity.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, Odenton MD : 7:51 AM ET
I have heard quite a bit about this recently, and absolutely cannot fathom how people can be so devoid of any human decency. This is without question one of the most indecent, disgusting things I have ever heard. People who particiapte in this sort of practice should be put to death...they obviously have no regard for human life, respect for the dead or their families, and have absolutely no soul.
Posted By Anonymous Julia, Dover, DE : 8:19 AM ET
People who snatch body parts for money should be locked up for the rest of their lives--this act is disgraceful, heinous, and sickening!
Posted By Anonymous Jared, Cambridge, MA : 9:22 AM ET
I received ligament tissue to replace my ACL last june. The story broke around Christmas of last year and was outraged. I called my surgeon's office and they told me the tissue they used was safe. The scariest thing was that at the next appointment with my surgeon,he looked surprised and said he didn't know anything about it.
Posted By Anonymous Carol Cassidy, Cobleskill, NY : 9:34 AM ET
THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS STORY.
Don't stop here There is so much more to tell. You can make a difference. If the whole story can be told maybe it will stop the back room prosections and hand slapping. Those of us who have recieved this have so many un answered question? No one is willing to step up and find those anwers. Some who have been notifed refuse to take it seriuos and get the proper testing done. I don't think they fully understand that by not doing so is unresponable. Did YOu know we have been labeled? We are know as the bts reciptants. We have speical sections with the fda, cdc, and others. So if we are so ok... and shouldn't worry why should they? We live with this nightmare 24/7. Why can't we just get over it...... How would you like to have inplanted in you a piece of meat that laid out on table for days, soaked in a little bleach. Knowing that it wasn't given freely and you may have a piece of someone who can't be at rest because they are not whole. Rest, we certainly don't get much.... we live with nightmares through the night and the day. So maybe it is just the what ifs we are afraid of. WHat if ....it was you and yours!
Posted By Anonymous Kim Lanham, Gravel Switch, KY : 9:44 AM ET
This truly is a corrupt and wicked world we live in... Although it doesn't surprise me what lenghts some will go for the almighty dollar... It just goes back to the old saying "money is the root to all evil"... Only a true psychopath could benefit financially by stealing and selling diseased body parts and still sleep at night...I know, for punishment, lets put cancerous livers and pancreas in their bodies and not allow any medication or pain relief, just let them die slowly, painfully in a room together... A la Jean Paul Sarte!
Posted By Anonymous Sherry Strickland, Sarasota Florida : 9:49 AM ET
It not only makes me think twice about having any kind of surgery, it makes me wonder what really happens to people once they go to the funeral home.

Though defiling the body after death isn't a new practice in this country. There used to be out-and-out grave robbers, who would dig people up and pilfer whatever valuables they found buried with the person, and then sell the remains to medical schools.

Funeral homes of the modern era have just taken this horrible practice to a new level. They don't even wait until the body is buried.

I'm not sure whether this man is telling the truth or not. He's probably involved in the crimes, but it's ludicrous to me to think that this kind of thing could occur in a funeral home without said funeral home knowing what was going on, too.

They should all be ashamed of themselves. There are far more things in life more important than the almighty dollar.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Ottawa, KS : 10:01 AM ET
Here in Georgia, we've made it harder for people to sue doctors and hospitals over minor quibbles like this. After all, doctors know better than we do what's safe. If we sue them over small stuff they just leave the state and then there are no doctors at all.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Statesboro GA : 11:47 AM ET
If we are not in the Republican's religious limbo right now; then stem cell research should be going full blast to lead us into break-through body parts growing/replacement path.

Let science do what it can do to make our lives and our children's lives better! and get our narrow minded politics out of the way!!
Posted By Anonymous Ian R Chicago, IL : 11:59 AM ET
If more people donated their remains, perhaps there would not be a such a need for parts that an unregulated blackmarket could exist.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, Houston, TX : 12:04 PM ET
I wonder how many of you "disgusted" folks realize that aborted baby parts are also sold for research and other procedures? Nice eh? Perhaps we need to be more consistent / accurate about how we view things, i.e. if one thing is wrong, then something almost exactly the same is wrong, even if thats incovenient or not profitable. Our nation has consequences for our decisions, and greedy, evil people are a direct product of immoral living and decisions (that we are all guilty of, to a greater or lesser extent). It is so clear, we need to become more passionate about the truth and teach our kids about the consequences of acting immorally, some of us call it sin. Lets not be so afraid to ruffle some feathers, wrong is wrong, lets make some changes, its not just the system, its us! Throwing these weasles in jail is like the bandaid. We need better schools and fuller churches, more studying, including literary analysis of the Bible, this is ALL in there, I'm no right winger, but all this crap happening is predicted "fallen" behavior, don't take a strangers word for it, go read the Bible, see for yourself, go to a Sunday school class at a Bible preaching church and see if your ready to hear the truth yet. Think this world is crazy and sick and depraved a lot of the time, your right! But we can get with the program to work for whats right. Love God by loving others!
Posted By Anonymous Brian Reilly, Hastings MN : 12:16 PM ET
Sherry Strickland,
It is, the love of money is the root of all evil. Money can also be used for good. Unfortunately some folks have darkened hearts.
Posted By Anonymous Jenny Turner Sacramento, California : 6:22 PM ET
Not too far removed from the Nazi medical "experiments" 65 or 70 years ago, is it? Of course the imbecils in Washington will never pay any meaningful attention to this serious problem. They are too busy doing exactly what the organ robbers are doing, lining their pockets at the exxpense of others. Sign me "Disgusted".
Posted By Anonymous A. Roy Olson Tucson, AZ : 12:18 PM ET
This just goes to show how low mankind has sunk. The taking of body parts, without permission, and passing them off as healthy, is truly immoral, and sickening. They should be put in jail without any hope of ever getting out.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy Sackman South Carolina : 1:58 PM ET
I always felt that when I die, peace would finally come. Now I have body-part snatchers to worry about.
Posted By Anonymous Tracy Holmes New york City : 2:15 PM ET
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