Sunset Mesa Funeral Home Operators Sentenced to Federal Prison For Illegal Body Part Scheme
DENVER – The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced today that the operators of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose, Colorado, were sentenced to federal prison for illegally selling body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the family of the deceased.
Megan Hess, age 46, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after earlier pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. According to the plea agreement, from 2010 through 2018, the defendant and others stole the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims, and then sold those remains to victims purchasing the remains for body broker services. Under the auspices of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors, the defendant would frequently meet with victims seeking cremation services for themselves or their loved ones who had died. During those meetings, the defendant and others would represent to the victims that Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors would cremate decedents and provide their cremated remains back to the families. Instead, the defendant and others would harvest body parts from, or prepare the entire bodies of, the decedents for sale in body broker services.
Shirley Koch, age 69, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after earlier pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. According to the plea agreement, from 2010 through 2018, Koch was involved in meeting with families seeking cremation services for their loved ones who had died. In many instances, Koch and Hess neither discussed nor obtained authorization for donation of decedents’ bodies or body parts for body broker services. In other instances, the topic of donation was raised by Hess or Koch, and specifically rejected by the families. In such circumstances, despite lacking any authorization, Koch and Hess recovered body parts from, or otherwise prepared entire bodies of hundreds of decedents for body broker services. In the few instances where families agreed to donation, Hess and Koch sold the remains of those decedents beyond what was authorized by the family, which was often limited to small tissue samples, tumors, or portions of skin. Hess and Koch also delivered cremains to families with the representation that the cremains were that of the deceased when, frequently, that was not the case.
According to the plea agreements, Hess and Koch would also ship bodies and body parts that tested positive for, or belonging to people who had died from, infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, after certifying to buyers that the remains were disease free. These shipments would be through the mail or on commercial air flights in violation of Department of Transportation regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials.
Judge Christine M. Arguello sentenced Hess and Koch on January 3, 2023.
“The defendants’ conduct was horrific and morbid and driven by greed. They took advantage of numerous victims who were at their lowest point given the recent loss of a loved one. We hope these prison sentences will bring the victim’s family members some amount of peace as they move forward in the grieving process,” said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan. “We sincerely hope this punishment deters like-minded fraudsters in the future.”
“These two women preyed on vulnerable victims who turned to them in a time of grief and sadness. But instead of offering guidance, these greedy women betrayed the trust of hundreds of victims and mutilated their loved ones,” said FBI Denver Acting Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo. “Without knowledge or consent, the women disrespected the wishes of the grieving victims and degraded the bodies of their family members to sell them for profit. These two criminals continued in their atrocities for years, showing no remorse or contrition even after they were exposed. Nothing can guarantee solace for the victims or repair the damage done, but perhaps this sentence can mark the end of a horrible chapter in their lives.”
“Together with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we are committed to pursuing those who put the safety of the public at grave risk for personal gain,” said Cissy Tubbs, Special Agent-in-Charge, Western Region, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “We hope today’s sentencing provides a sense of justice served for the families and loved ones of the victims of this callous scheme.”
This case was complex and involved a detailed forensic review of evidence. The investigation was led by the FBI Denver Division and the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Neff, Assistant United States Attorney Rebecca Weber, Assistant United States Attorney Laura Hurd, with invaluable assistance from former Assistant United States Attorney Jeremy Chaffin and Victim Witness Coordinator Donna Summers.
CASE NUMBER: 20-cr-00098