Fu­neral home owner in­ves­ti­gated for sell­ing body parts

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES - JOHN SHIFFMAN

THE FBI this week searched the of­fices of a Colorado busi­ness­woman who op­er­ates a fu­neral home and a body donation com­pany from the same build­ing.

The raid in Mon­trose, Colorado, fol­lows a re­port last month in which former fu­neral home em­ploy­ees ex­pressed con­cern that owner Megan Hess was run­ning a side busi­ness dis­sect­ing do­nated bod­ies and sell­ing the parts to med­i­cal train­ing and re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The FBI search war­rant, ap­proved by a fed­eral mag­is­trate in Colorado, is sealed, and the rea­sons for the raid could not be de­ter­mined. The search was con­firmed by an FBI of­fi­cial and Mon­trose Po­lice Com­man­der Gene Lil­lard, whose depart­ment is as­sist­ing.

A Mon­trose hus­band and wife said that, af­ter read­ing last month’s re­port, they be­came alarmed and can­celled a pre­paid cre­ma­tion con­tract with Hess.

Doc­u­ments they re­trieved from Sun­set Mesa, they said, led them to be­lieve their bod­ies would have been do­nated to sci­ence against their wishes. The cou­ple gave the doc­u­ments to the FBI.

“I felt like I dodged a bul­let,” the wife, Suann Hughes, 72, said in an in­ter­view be­fore the FBI raid.

She said that she and her hus­band, John Hughes, 78, bought pre­paid cre­ma­tions from Hess’s fu­neral home, Sun­set Mesa, in June 2016.

Suann Hughes said that the $895 per per­son cre­ma­tion fee was dis­counted by $100 each when the Hugh­e­ses agreed to do­nate their bod­ies to Donor Ser­vices, which Hess op­er­ates in the same build­ing as the fu­neral home.

Hughes said that she later can­celled the donation – but not the cre­ma­tion – in July 2017. She said the donation forms, in­clud­ing one she signed for her hus­band, were re­turned to her.

But last month, af­ter read­ing the re­port about Sun­set Mesa and Donor Ser­vices, Hughes de­cided she no longer wanted Hess to han­dle any as­pect of her or her hus­band’s funer­als.

Dur­ing a visit to Sun­set Mesa, Hughes said, Hess re­turned the cou­ple’s file. Hughes said she was sur­prised to see signed donor con­sent forms re­mained in the file.

“We were still writ­ten down in the file as for donation,” Hughes said.

“I felt like had one of us passed away, we would have been huge vic­tims.”

Reuters be­gan ex­am­in­ing the Hess com­pa­nies more than a year ago as part of the news agency’s ex­plo­ration of the hu­man body trade, a vir­tu­ally un­reg­u­lated in­dus­try that largely op­er­ates in the shad­ows.

No fed­eral law pro­hibits the buy­ing and sell­ing of hu­man body parts to be used in re­search and ed­u­ca­tion. Bro­kers typ­i­cally ob­tain ca­dav­ers from peo­ple who do­nate their re­mains in ex­change for the free cre­ma­tion of unused por­tions of their bod­ies.

Last month’s re­port in­cluded in­ter­views with former em­ploy­ees who al­leged that Hess had en­gaged in de­cep­tive mar­ket­ing prac­tises. One former em­ployee also claimed that gold den­tal work had been re­moved from corpses and sold.

Hess’s lawyer, Carol Viner, was un­avail­able to com­ment. Pre­vi­ously, Viner de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about the FBI probe, Hess’s busi­ness prac­tices and the al­le­ga­tions by former em­ploy­ees.

Hess of­fered to sell body parts to ed­u­ca­tion and re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions.

For ex­am­ple, a price quote Hess sent to an Ari­zona med­i­cal train­ing lab in 2016 of­fered tor­sos for $1 000 each. A pelvis with up­per legs went for $1 200, heads for $500, a knee for $250, and a foot for $125, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 donor ser­vices price list.

Colorado state fu­neral reg­u­la­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Sun­set Mesa.

The state’s Depart­ment of Reg­u­la­tory Agen­cies said it had nine open com­plaints about Sun­set Mesa – “higher than av­er­age” for fu­neral homes in the state, spokesper­son Lee Ra­sizer said last month. – Reuters

Megan Hess

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