- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — The man accused of scheming to plunder bodies for parts used in thousands of tissue transplants is poised to plead guilty, and authorities and victims’ relatives say his testimony could roil the billion-dollar industry.

In an effort to escape a lengthy prison sentence in cases in Philadelphia and New York, Michael Mastromarino has agreed to talk to investigators about the companies that bought the stolen tissue, said his attorney, Mario Gallucci.

“Let’s just say that he is going to assist them and give any information he has about the processors and their role,” Mr. Gallucci said.

The companies that processed the tissue already face hundreds of civil lawsuits. But they claim they never knew the body parts weren’t legitimately obtained and insist the former oral surgeon’s plea deal, expected to be announced Tuesday, doesn’t change anything.

The scandal broke two years when Mr. Mastromarino, then owner of Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS), was accused of furtively cutting up corpses from funeral homes in the Northeast. The body parts were sent to the processors, fetching as much as $7,000 apiece.

Mr. Mastromarino, 44, was in a position to know exactly how the business operated and who knew what.

“Mastromarino can certainly tell us things that may lead us in directions we haven’t been able to go before,” said a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Mr. Mastromarino started BTS in 2001 and made plenty off the pilfered corpses. It wasn’t a complicated business.

The bodies came from funeral homes in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. BTS shipped the bone, skin and tendons to Regeneration Technologies Inc., LifeCell Corp. and Tutogen Medical Inc., all publicly traded companies, along with two nonprofits, Lost Mountain Tissue Bank and the Blood and Tissue Center of central Texas.

Court documents show that Regeneration, which recently agreed to merge with Tutogen in an all-stock deal, shipped a total of 19,446 pieces of tissue that BTS provided.

Minneapolis-based health giant Medtronic Inc., which distributed some of the tissue it received from Regeneration, also has been sued, but says the case is without merit.

The parts were used in disk replacements, knee operations, dental implants and a variety of other surgical procedures performed by unsuspecting doctors across the United States and in Canada. About 10,000 people received tissue supplied by BTS.

Among the bodies BTS looted was that of “Masterpiece Theatre” host Alistair Cooke, who died in 2004.

If improperly screened and processed, cadaver tissues can lead to infections, including the AIDS virus. Despite the companies’ assurances that their sterilization methods are safe, hundreds have sued them.

If Mr. Mastromarino — who faces up to 54 years in prison if convicted of enterprise corruption, body stealing, opening graves, unlawful dissection and forgery — implicates the companies, their financial exposure could be enormous.

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