Federal officials have charged Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, with mail fraud and illegal transportation of hazardous materials for allegedly using their Montrose funeral home to supply a body brokering business they also owned, often against the direct wishes of next-of-kin.
The hazardous materials charges were filed because officials say some of those remains came from individuals with infectious diseases and were shipped without required warnings.
The mother and daughter had their first court appearance Tuesday, entered a not guilty plea, and are believed to be out on bail.
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The FBI has been investigating Sunset Mesa and they said they believe the crimes started in at least 2010 and lasted for nearly a decade. They've identified dozens of victims and believe the scheme brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The defendants are charged with committing a blatant fraud on many, many victim. This betrays a fundamental trust during one of the worst times in a person’s life – having to make arrangements for a deceased loved one,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said in a statement. “It is hard to imagine the pain and worry of those who used Sunset Mesa and not knowing what happened to their loved ones’ remains.”
The indictment paints a grim picture of what allegedly occurred inside the funeral home. It says in hundreds of cases, Hess and Koch would either not bring up body donation, or only obtain permission for limited harvesting, of tissue or corneas instead. They would then sell most or all of the decedent's body through their nonprofit brokering business. They are also accused of supplying family with what they falsely purported to be the cremains of their loved one, but were actually co-mingled ashes, or other substances altogether.
The mail fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years each, the other charges have a five year maximum. Each charge carries a potential $250,000.
Officials say they consider the organization that purchased the body parts to also be victims of the alleged fraud perpetrated by Hess and Koch.