‘Ghoul’ pleads guilty to looting - Body harvesting scam draws to a close in court

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The lid is about to be sealed on the coffin of the four ghouls responsible for looting hundreds of corpses in a Brooklyn-based body harvesting scam.

This past week, Joseph Nicelli, 52, threw himself on the mercy of the court as he allocated to a host of crimes he committed at the direction of his body-stealing ring-leader Michael Mastromarino.

Nicelli is the last of the four suspects to have the charges against them adjudicated.

The court cases stemming from the charges — which range from enterprise corruption to opening graves — were delayed for months as the Staten Island resident recovered from a debilitating fall.

Yet despite the serious charges against him, Nicelli and his attorneys came into court two weeks ago thinking he could horse-trade his allocution for a one- to three-year prison sentence, officials said.

The Kings County District Attorney’s office had other plans and wouldn’t let Nicelli plea to anything less than 10 to 30 years.

On Wednesday, Nicelli pleaded guilty with the caveat that Judge Albert Tomei decide his sentence. It took him over an hour to allocate to the 100-count indictment, officials said.

Tomei, who could give less time than Nicelli wanted or more than prosecutors were seeking, will render his decision on January 26.

Nicelli, Mastromarino and cohorts Lee Cruceta and Chris Aldorasi were accused of making millions off the recently deceased.

Between 2001 and 2005, the crew carved up and removed organs, bones and tissue from 1,000 bodies without the consent of the deceased or their families.

They then sold the body parts to area hospitals through Mastromarino’s biomedical company.

Nearly all of the bodies were intercepted right before the embalming processes for funeral services began.

Nicelli, who ran a body transporting business, picked up most of the corpses. Mastromarino would pay local funeral home operators $1,000 a body, officials said.

The organs were removed from a special cutting room in the Daniel George Funeral Home on Bath Avenue in Bath Beach, which Nicelli ran.

After removing the organs, Mastromarino and his team would re-stitch the corpses, replacing the stolen bones and organs with bloodied rags, aprons and PVC piping to make it appear that the bodies hadn’t been tampered with.

Since body parts can only be donated with expressed, written consent, Mastromarino forged death certificates, donor requests and other documents, making it appear that it was the decedent’s wish to have their organs and tissues harvested after their passing.

He also altered death certificates of people who died of cancer and other diseases to make it appear that they perished from heart failure or old age — making the potentially diseased body parts more marketable.

When prosecutors unearthed the case, dozens of funeral directors throughout the city implicated in Mastromarino’s scam pleaded guilty for handing the bodies over to his crew.

Mastromarino also pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 18 to 54 years in prison. Aldorasi, described as a “cutter,” took his chances at trial and was found guilty. He, too, was sentenced — to 25 years in prison.

Cruceta cooperated with prosecutors, officials said. He has also pleaded guilty and was awaiting his sentence, officials said.

Their cases may be concluded, but that doesn’t mean that the suspects’ legal woes are over.

All are facing a similar criminal indictment in Philadelphia as well as hundreds of civil suits from the families of the decedents looted as well as those who received the illegally harvested body parts.

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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