New York Tainted Tissues Attorney
In October 2005, Americans learned that thousands of patients in hospitals throughout the country had received donor tissues—skin, bones, and other body parts—that were illegally harvested and sold by a group operating under the name Biomedical Tissue Services in New Jersey.
These unlawfully obtained and distributed tissues had not been properly screened for infectious diseases, placing recipients at risk of HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis, and other communicable diseases.
Because the death certificates of the deceased had been forged, it is possible that patients received tissues from donors who had cancer, osteoporosis, or other conditions that may pose potential problems for these recipients. For example, the death certificate of “Masterpiece Theater’s” Alistair Cooke, who died at age 95 of lung cancer that had spread to his bones, was allegedly forged to state that he died at age 85 of a heart attack.
Of the 1,000 or more cadavers from which tissues were illegally stolen, most of the deceased or their family members had not provided consent to be tissue donors. Approximately 30 funeral homes have been accused of accepting money from Biomedical Tissue Services to ignore forged consent forms and falsified death certificates.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of patients across the nation who might have received these tainted tissues. Some of these lawsuits seek extensive monitoring and testing, while others seek monetary damages. Families of deceased individuals whose bodies were allegedly stolen have also sought legal redress for these ghastly wrongdoings.
If you or a loved one has received transplanted bone, heart valve, tendon, organ, or other tissues and you are concerned about the risk that they were illegally harvested and not properly tested, please contact our qualified Tainted Tissue attorneys to learn more about your legal rights and options. We can provide a free legal consultation so that your can learn how to best protect you and your family’s interest.
Timeline of Events: The Tainted Tissues Body Part Scandal
In 2001, Michael Mastromarino—a Fort Lee, New Jersey dentist who had lost his professional license—began a tissue harvesting business called Biomedical Tissue Services with the help of embalmer Joseph Nicelli, who owned Daniel George & Son funeral home in Brooklyn, New York.
Nicelli also owned a business that took recently deceased bodies to funeral homes, and was thus able to obtain corpses for the group’s illegal operations. For approximately three years, Mastromarino and Nicelli harvested tissues from cadavers without consent and without proper medical screening. During this time, these two men and others they employed would remove bones and/or other tissues from recently deceased individuals. They would often replace these stolen body parts with plastic PVC piping and close up incisions so they were unnoticeable during the funeral.
Allegedly, these men would often falsify the deceased person’s age and cause of death on official documents to make them appear younger and healthier. The group would also forge consent forms to make it appear as if permission was given for the body to be used for medical purposes.
Experts believe that dozens of funeral home directors accepted money from Biomedical Tissue Services to ignore forged documents. At least seven funeral home directors have plead guilty to criminal charges that they were involved in this tainted tissue scandal.
Among the 30 or so funeral homes connected to this scandal are Avalon Funeral Services in the Bronx, Thomas E Burger Funeral Home in Rochester, New York Mortuary in Manhattan, Profetta Funeral Chapel in New Jersey, and Louis Garzone Funeral Home in Philadelphia.
After harvesting body parts without permission and without conducting necessary medical screening, Mastromarino and his henchmen sold these tainted tissues to tissue processors who then sold the parts to distributors who sold them to hospitals for use in transplant operations.
Lifecell Corporation, Regeneration Technologies, Inc, Lost Mountain Tissue Bank Blood &Tissue Center of Central Texas, and Tutogen Medical are among the companies to which Mastromarino sold the stolen body parts. According to some reports, Regeneration Technologies and others have been named as defendants in civil lawsuits filed on behalf of those who have received these tainted tissues. A tissue distributor, Medtronic Sofamor Danek, has also been named in recent lawsuits.
In November 2004, New York police launched an investigation into Nicelli’s Brooklyn funeral home operations after the home’s new owners discovered numerous discrepancies in their bookkeeping. Eleven months later, the public discovers that the investigation is underway.
On October 13, 2005, after their own investigation, the Food and Drug Administration ordered a recall of all unused tissues originating from Biomedical Tissue Services. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 25,000 body parts from Biomedical Tissue Services had been distributed to all fifty states and internationally.
In November 2005, Medtronic announced that it received from Regeneration Technologies 13,000 skin grafts, which originally came from Biomedical Tissue Services. At least 8,000 of these allografts had been implanted.
In February 2006, the FDA orders Biomedical Tissue Services to stop all manufacturing and shuts the business down. The FDA discovered numerous serious violations including:
- Failure to properly screen donors
- Failure to keep required records
- Failure to follow their own operating procedures
- Failure to recover tissues in a manner that doesn’t cause contamination
- Failure to adequately control environmental conditions
- The forging of cause, place, and time of death, and the identities of next of kin on death certificates
- And more.
Later in February, the Brooklyn District Attorney issued a 122-count criminal indictment against Mastromarino, Nicelli, Lee Cruceta, and Christopher Aldorasi. The latter two men had worked for Biomedical Tissue Services removing body parts from cadavers. The charges against these four men include enterprise corruption (punishable by up to 25 years in prison), body stealing and opening graves (both felonies), unlawful dissection, forgery, grand larceny, and falsifying business records.
In March 2006, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office prepared indictments against several funeral home employees, including the seven that had plead guilty and agreed to offer their cooperation in ongoing investigations.
While criminal investigations have been underway, New Jersey legislators have also responded to this tainted tissue scandal. On December 4, 2006, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would make unlawful trading in human remains a first-degree crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison (the current punishment for this crime is 10 years in New Jersey). This state bill also makes it illegal to forge donor documents or intentionally purchase or sell human body parts without donor permission.
After the news broke about this tainted tissue scandal, hospitals across the country scrambled to determine if they had received and transplanted any tissues supplied by Biomedical Tissue Services. Doctors who were notified that their patients received tainted tissues, in turn, notified their patients.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of people who have received transplants of these tainted tissues. Others have filed lawsuits asserting that Biomedical Tissue Services illegally harvested their family member’s remains. In many of these lawsuits, defendants have included:
- Biomedical Tissue Services and their employees
- Funeral homes, funeral directors, and other employees involved in the scandal
- Tissue processing companies such as Regeneration Technologies
- Tissue distributing companies such as Medtronic
- And others.