DENVER (CBS4) – Owners of a funeral home in Montrose are accused of illegally selling body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the family of the deceased. Megan Hess, 43, and her mother, Shirley Koch, 66, appeared virtually before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Grand Junction Tuesday, where they were advised of their rights and the charges pending against them.
Hess and Koch operated Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors from 2010 through 2018, according to a recently unsealed grand jury indictment. The business would charge families $1,000 for cremations, but investigators said many of those cremations never happened.
In 2009, Hess created a nonprofit called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, a broker service operated out of the same location as the funeral home. In dozens of instances, investigators said the nonprofit transferred bodies and body parts to third parties without discussing or obtaining authorization from families.
“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. “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.”
In a few instances where families agreed to donation, the indictment claims Hess and Koch sold remains beyond what was authorized by the family. Investigators claim Hess and Koch delivered cremains to the families that were not the remains of their loved ones.
The indictment alleges Hess and Koch would ship bodies and body parts that belonged to people who had infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV, after certifying to buyers that the remains were disease free. The shipments also violated federal regulations for the transportation of hazardous materials.
“Today’s indictment stemming from the illegal transportation of hazardous materials is a clear signal that such illegal acts will not be tolerated,” stated Lisa Glazzy, Acting Regional Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG). “Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue to protect the public’s safety from those who would seek to circumvent DOT-related laws and regulations.”
Hess and Koch are both charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials. If convicted, they both face up to 20 years in federal prison for each count of mail fraud along with five years for each count of transporting hazardous materials. The defendants also face up to a $250,000 fine, per count.
“Let today’s actions serve notice to those who would commit such self-serving acts of callous greed, we will diligently and tirelessly work to bring you to justice,” said FBI Denver Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dameon Hutto.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin from the U.S. Attorneys Grand Junction Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Neff in the Denver office.