Talk about high drama!

Would the accused ringleader of a body-parts-for-sale scam - held on $5 million bail here - leave prison without posting any money, as a Common Pleas judge ordered yesterday?

Or would the district attorney's office's emergency appeal to Superior Court - filed two minutes before deadline - reverse the bail order?

Would the wife of that accused ringleader, Michael Mastromarino, reach the prison to pick up the defendant before the emergency judge issued his ruling? Or would the judge keep him in jail?

Mastromarino's dramatic exit strategy was a cliffhanger worthy of a TV episode. His new attorney - A. Charles Peruto Jr. - set it in motion with a Dec. 4 bail motion, which the D.A.'s office says it did not receive.

Enter Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe, who in chambers recused herself from the bodyparts trial because she knew one of Mastromarino's four co-defendants, court documents show.

Yet, in court, Dembe listened to both sides about whether to reduce Mastromarino's bail. She then issued an unusual order, saying Mastromarino, 44, of Fort Lee, N.J., could be released on his own recognizance, with one caveat: If he skips court proceedings here, he will have to pay $500,000 cash bail.

As owner of the now-defunct Bio-Medical Technical Services Inc., Mastromarino allegedly bought and sold diseased body parts from 244 Philadelphians for more than $1 million, a grand jury found.

Dembe refused to postpone her order until the D.A.'s office appealed. "I'm just dumbfounded," Assistant D.A. Bruce Sagel told Dembe.

"This [bail] is less than a shoplifter's," Sagel said. "He's got 1,700 counts against him, and it's as if he shoplifted a $5 piece of meat."

Peruto had argued that Mastromarino had two children, a wife of 17 1/2 years who was "his only girlfriend," and had never been late for any court proceeding in a related body-parts case in Brooklyn, where he's been out on $1.5 million cash bail and has liens against his house to prove it.

"He's not going anywhere," Peruto added.

Sagel countered that the Philadelphia case was far more serious, citing Mastromarino's 1,700 "unbelievable horrific crimes" removing body parts from 244 Philadelphians, whereas in Brooklyn, the charges involve eight corpses."He's more likely to flee," said Sagel.

Mastromarino is charged with running a corrupt organization, abuse of corpse, theft, forgery and tampering with records - the same charges as most of his co-defendants.

Dembe then gave Mastromarino a better bail deal - no money up front - than that received by funeral-home operators James A. McCarthy Jr. and brothers Louis and Gerald Garzone.

Each posted 10 percent cash of $500,000 bail.

Unable to make $1.5 million bail is Mastromarino's top aide, Lee Cruceta, 34, of Monroe, N.Y., who has been jailed since Oct. 9.

Cruceta's attorney, Mary Maran, said she's considering a new appeal.

Sagel argued that Mastromarino's alleged multistate scam brought in $12 million and that his former counsel admitted in court that as soon as the defendant moves $500,000 to post bail here, every law-enforcement agency would be after him. In other words, there is apparently a lot of money stashed away with which he could flee.

"This isn't making any sense to me," replied Dembe. "His New York trial is coming up fairly quickly. If he's not complying with their pretrial [restrictions,] they are going to go after him."

Meanwhile yesterday, Assistant D.A. Peter Carr and Hugh Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit, were quickly writing an eight-page appeal and submitted it to the Superior Court at closing time.

Within 90 minutes, emergency judge Richard Klein heard arguments on the phone from Peruto, Assistant D.A. Carr and Ronald Eisenberg, deputy D.A. of the law division.

Just before the judge called, Peruto said, Mastromarino's wife told him she was en route to to pick up her husband at Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center. Klein then ruled that Mastromarino should be kept in jail until a hearing tomorrow, and that he wanted to read a transcript of the bail hearing.

By 6 p.m., the big question was: Was Mastromarino in or out of jail? "He's in," said Robert Eskin, spokesman for the city prisons. *