As relatives of some of their former customers sobbed in the audience of a packed courtroom, two Philadelphia morticians pleaded guilty this morning to charges that they participated in a multi-state scheme in which bodies were illegally dissected and the parts sold for use in surgery.
Louis Garzone, 66, of Kensington, and his brother, Gerald, 48, of North Wales, pleaded guilty to a long list of charges – including operating a corrupt organization, conspiracy, theft and abuse of corpse – that could send each to prison for the rest of their lives.
Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson set sentencing for Oct. 22.
The Garzones remained free on bail pending sentencing and left the courtroom through a gantlet of people, some of whom cursed and them or threatened them.
The Garzones, who operated funeral homes in Kensington and Hunting Park, admitted earning $1,000-a-body by letting the remains of 244 Philadelphians be dismembered for a corrupt North Jersey tissue bank.
According to the Philadelphia grand jury presentment that resulted in charges against the Garzones, the brothers did not have the relatives' permission before they made the cadavers available to "cutting teams" from Biomedical Tissue Services Inc., of Fort Lee, N.J.
In addition, authorities say many of the deceased would have been ineligible for use in surgery implants because they died of cancer or were infected with HIV or hepatitis.
The Garzones' guilty pleas came on the morning prosecutors and defense attorneys were to begin jury selection for their trial. Though the lawyers were involved in touch-and-go plea negotiations for much of last week, on Friday the founder of Biomedical Tissue Services, former oral surgeon Michael Mastromarino, 44, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the District Attorney's office against the Garzones.
Officials say Mastromarino, already serving an 18- to 54-year prison term in New York on his guilty plea to similar charges, earned almost $4 million selling parts from 1,077 bodies from funeral homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Two other men charged with the Garzones in Philadelphia – mortician James J. McCafferty Jr., 38, the Garzones' partner in a Philadelphia crematorium; and Lee Cruceta, 35, a former nurse from Monroe, N.Y. who was Mastromarino's "chief cutter" – have also pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Garzones.