Sunset Mesa Funeral Home Operators Sentenced to Federal Prison For Illegal Body Part Scheme

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced Jan. 3  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 was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. According to the plea agreement, from 2010 through 2018, Hess and others stole the bodies or body parts of hundreds of victims and sold those remains to victims purchasing the remains for body broker services. 

Under the auspices of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors, Hess would frequently meet with victims seeking cremation services for themselves or their loved ones who had died, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During those meetings, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Hess 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, Hess and others would harvest body parts from, or prepare the entire bodies of the decedents for sale in body broker services, according to the announcement.

Shirly Koch was sentenced to 15 years in prison after 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. In many instances, the U.S. Attorney’s Office noted Koch and Hess neither discussed nor obtained authorization for the 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, according to the announcement. In such circumstances, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said 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, according to the announcement. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also noted 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. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said 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.

Senior Judge Christine Arguello of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado sentenced Hess and Koch Jan. 3.

“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 in a press release. “We sincerely hope this punishment deters like-minded fraudsters in the future.”

“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,” said FBI Denver Acting Special Agent in Charge Leonard Carollo in a press release. “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.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office explained 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. The case was prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys Tim Neff, Rebecca Weber and Laura Hurd, with assistance from former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin and Victim Witness Coordinator Donna Summers.

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