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Such multipurpose operations raise ethical concerns, several funeral industry veterans said. A funeral director who also works as a body broker could have a financial incentive to sell a body for its valuable parts rather than provide an inexpensive burial, for instance.
“The conflict of interest of having a side business in body parts just leads to problems,” said Steve Palmer, a funeral director in Cottonwood, Arizona, and former member of the policy board at the National Funeral Directors Association. “There are no ethics there when you do that. You are not looking at the full disposition (of a body). You are looking at how to make money.”
GOLD TEETH: Former employee Kari Escher said she was especially troubled by the practices of Megan Hess’s mother, Shirley Koch, who Escher said pulled teeth from some of the corpses so she could sell the gold in crowns or fillings. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Hess runs Sunset Mesa, a funeral home, and Donor Services, a body broker operation from the same building in Montrose. Some former staff members of Sunset Mesa said they never heard Hess disclose to donors that the bodies would be sold for profit.
“The fact that now the business is also making money from the sale of body parts – if that is not being told to the family, it is unethical and probably illegal, if only as deception,” said Robert Fells, general counsel of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, an industry trade group. Fells called running such a multifaceted operation “a new frontier.”
Through the attorney, Hess declined to comment for this story and didn’t address questions about the FBI probe, her business practices, and the allegations by former employees. The attorney, Carol Viner, asked Reuters to “refrain from contacting” Hess employees “for any reason.”
The focus and extent of the federal probe into the Hess operation is unclear, and the FBI also declined to comment.
Separate from the FBI inquiry, Reuters has learned that Colorado state funeral regulators are investigating Hess’s funeral home, Sunset Mesa. The state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies said it has nine open complaints about Sunset Mesa – “higher than average” for funeral homes in the state, said spokesman Lee Rasizer. He would not discuss the nature of those complaints or any action it may be taking.
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.