Friday, October 26, 2007

"Body Parts" Scandal in Philly and Beyond

On October 8, 2007, The Philadelphia Daily News reported about "a national body-parts scandal that led to thousands of charges against three funeral directors, two businessmen and two companies."

Survivors' lives shaken in wake of body-parts scandal", written by staff writers Kitty Caparella, Gloria Campisi, & Julie Shaw, focused on the emotional suffering created by perpetrators of criminal fraud in offering funeral services, but selling body parts before disposal of the remains:

Theresa Fetzer fears that when she goes to the Palmer Cemetery to visit her parents' graves, her father's remains may not be there.Her father, John Fetzer, who died May 1, 2005, had cirrhosis of the liver, tuberculosis, bladder cancer and hepatitis C. * * *

Fetzer said her father was cremated at one of the companies charged in the scam, Liberty Cremation, on Ruth near Somerset -- just as her mother had been only five months earlier.

"They were literally throwing the ashes back in body bags that [bodies] came in," Fetzer said she was told by a detective.

"God forbid they had four or five people, instead of cremating them individually, they would cremate them together. Now, we don't even know if his ashes are in the box."

The Fetzer sisters, Theresa and Debbie, were among 48 grieving families identified by a Philadelphia grand jury who were defrauded. The other 196 victims had falsified records. * * *

The indictments were authorized by a grand jury that had convened in response to newspaper reports, as noted in an article entitled "Jury to Get Body Parts Probe: D.A. Will Present Witnesses in Guresome Case", posted June 13, 2006, on, and then reposted.

The Philadelphia district attorney's office is gearing up to subpoena witnesses to testify before a grand jury about the role of the Louis Garzone Funeral Home, and possibly others, in the nationwide body-parts scandal, according to sources close to the investigation.

The grand jury's role has come to light just a couple of days after state officials negotiated with Louis Garzone and his younger brother, Gerald Garzone, also an undertaker, to voluntarily relinquish their funeral directors' and parlors' licenses.

"I am pleased that journalism worked," said Kevin Vickers, a former tissue-company worker who first told the Daily News in a February interview that he cut up dozens of corpses inside the Louis Garzone Funeral Home.

Vickers worked for the now-defunct Biomedical Tissue Services Ltd. (BTS), based in Fort Lee, N.J., which sold tainted body parts obtained from up to 30 funeral homes in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Vickers said that he drove to Louis Garzone's funeral home several times -- dissecting bodies and extracting veins, tissues and tendons -- on behalf of BTS.

The failed company has become the center of a nationwide scandal involving tainted body parts. The tissue company would pay funeral directors across the tri-state area up to $1,000 per body, Vickers said.

BTS would later receive as much as $7,000 per body, according to investigators. * * *

The state charged that the Garzones allegedly acted with "gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct over an 18-month period from 2003 to September 2005." * * *
That Grand Jury's action resulted in the recent criminal law developments, according to The Philadelphia Daily News' October 8th article:

These charges are "long overdue," said South Carolina attorney Kevin Dean, of Motley Rice LLC, who represents Norman Card, Sr., one of the 244 victims identified in the grand jury report.

"It's a victory for the families who've had their loved ones' human remains misappropriated," said Dean, who represents at least two victims whose remains were harvested, and 18 recipients in Pennsylvania who have received diseased tissue.

"But it's not broad enough to include all the people who are culpable," he said. * * *

Other reports recently tracked the Grand Jury's criminal indictments and the anticipated trials. See: "3 charged with selling body parts: Stolen bones, skin, tissue transplanted in unsuspecting patients worldwide", posted by MSNBC (10/04/07); and "Family files complaint in organ scandal", by David Gambacorta, posted by The Philadelphia Daily News (10/20/07).

In the article "Co-defendant sparring likely at body-parts trial", by Kitty Caparella, also posted by
The Philadelphia Daily News (10/25/07), the scope of the pending proceeding was noted:
[On October 24, 2007,] Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina nixed a Municipal Court preliminary hearing -- a request by the prosecution that was opposed by the defense -- after hearing from both sides.

Sarmina, who served as the supervising judge for the grand jury in the case, was familiar with the evidence in the 111-page grand-jury presentment.

She ruled that she was bypassing the hearing because of the logistics involved: 200 witnesses expected to testify; the transport of witnesses from various parts of the country at great cost to the court, and a large number of defense attorneys.

Seven attorneys will represent five defendants, if a New York lawyer, Mario Gallucci, is permitted to join the case.

Sarmina oversaw the grand-jury investigation that charged five co-defendants and two businesses with more than 10,000 counts including operating a criminal enterprise during 18 months in 2004-05. * * *
The alleged illegal activity affected other countries, such as the United Kingdom. See: "Patients receive stolen bones: Forty British patients have been implanted with body parts stolen from US mortuaries".

Criminal actions are not the only consequence of the investigated activities. Civil actions, seeking damages against the perpetrators for the benefit of survivors, now follow.

On October 19, 2007, a Philadelphia law firm issued a press release entitled "Anapol Schwartz Files Philadelphia Civil Complaint for Son of Local Woman Whose Corpse was Allegedly Illegally Harvested for Bone/Tissue Transplantation", found online through PR Wire:

Anapol, Schwartz, Weiss, Cohan, Feldman & Smalley, P.C. filed a civil complaint today in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court (Docket # 002538) on behalf of the son of a local woman whose corpse was allegedly illegally harvested for bone and tissue transplantation by Philadelphia-based cremation company, Liberty Cremation, Inc.

This is the latest in a spate of civil lawsuits stemming from the high profile body-parts scandal, in which a dentist, funeral home owners/directors and cremation companies in Pa., N.J. and N.Y. are being charged with pilfering bones and tissue from the dead. * * *

"These families and individuals have experienced undue suffering and pain. We must expose those responsible for such monstrous acts and hold them accountable," Larry Cohan said.

The Philadelphia complaint follows a New Jersey one, recently filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County (Docket # L7198-07) by Anapol Schwartz on behalf of a couple whose brother's body parts were allegedly illegally harvested. * * *

The Philadelphia Daily News articles had reported -- prior to the filing of the criminal & civil actions mentioned above -- that "[t]housands of lawsuits have been filed nationwide since 2005 when the Food and Drug Administration halted BTS' operation."

Update: 10/26/07 at 6:30 p.m.:

I just noticed that the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association, per Kathleen K. Ryan, Esq., its General Counsel & Chief Operating Officer, posted a formal statement in reaction to the scandal, entitled "A Statement From The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association Concerning Recent Theft Of Body Parts".
She began by stating the disgust of that Association's members to the alleged criminal activities conducted by those few funeral directors in Philadelphia [Links added.]:
I believe I speak for each and every member of the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association (PFDA) when I say that we are appalled and disgusted by the alleged behavior and heinous abuse of the public trust involving the recent body part theft scandal. With their alleged actions, the Garzones and Mr. McCafferty have sullied the reputation of every funeral director in the state and the nation.

Our hope is that the public will recognize that the actions of these misguided men is an isolated incident and by no means represents the professional conduct of licensed funeral directors. * * *

The Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors, which oversees and monitors licensed funeral directors, has already taken action against the Garzones and Mr. McCafferty. They have either had their licenses revoked or have surrendered their licenses and can not practice as funeral directors in the state of Pennsylvania.

Like the PFDA, the State Board is committed to the proper conduct of funeral directors, safeguarding the interests of the public and upholding the standards of the profession.
Update: 11/01/07:

Professor Gerry W. Beyer, author of the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog, noted my posting in one of his own on Thursday, November 1, 2007, entitled "
Illegally harvested body-parts scandal distresses the nation".