Michael Mastromarino, a convicted body-stealer whose 2005 criminal case put a spotlight on the darker side of the international trade in human body parts, died Sunday at age 49 after battling bone cancer.
At the time of his death, Mastromarino was serving a lengthy prison term for stealing bone, skin and human tissue from corpses at funeral homes and getting paid for the parts, which were implanted unwittingly by local doctors and dentists into many patients without their knowledge.
The bodies that Mastromarino's firm harvested for money included that of famed television host Alistair Cooke.
In April, a Newsday-News 12 Long Island investigation found at least 70 Long Islanders received body parts improperly from Mastromarino's firm and that many health and safety questions still exist around the $1 billion worldwide trade in human body parts.
Law-enforcement authorities and court papers said Mastromarino's New Jersey-based recovery firm paid funeral homes $1,000 for each cadaver, which was then cut up and distributed without any medical testing and without the consent of donors or their families.
Government-approved human-tissue suppliers and local hospitals say they were unaware of Mastromarino's firm's improper actions and that their system safely and reliably provides implantable cadaver parts to thousands of patients each year, from knee repairs and dental fillings to cosmetic surgery.
"This is an industry. It's a commodity. Like flour on the commodity exchange. It's no different," Mastromarino said last year. "I cut some corners. But I knew where I could cut corners. We were providing a fantastic product."
Families whose loved ones' bodies were cut up without permission -- and the patients who had the stolen body parts implanted in their bodies -- were outraged when Mastromarino's scheme was revealed.
"I was shocked -- my heart skipped a beat -- I couldn't believe what I was hearing," recalled former New York City undercover cop William Hale, of Ridge. Hale was notified by state health officials that a bone transplanted into his neck in November 2003 at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson was stolen from a diseased body taken from a Brooklyn funeral home. Hale said he had to undergo tests for various diseases but, like many other Long Islanders who received the stolen body parts, did not suffer any health problems.
Hale was among dozens of patients who filed a lawsuit stemming from the Mastromarino case that was later settled out of court.
Mastromarino was serving a 15- to 30-year criminal sentence in a Buffalo area prison before being transferred recently to a correctional facility in Fishkill. He was declared dead Sunday of natural causes at an Orange County hospital, a state correction official said Monday.
With the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists