NEW YORK — Michael Mastromarino, a former dental surgeon who became a tabloid sensation when he was charged with running a $4.6 million enterprise that plundered tissue and bone from bodies at funeral homes and sold them for transplants and research, died Sunday at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh, N.Y. He was 49 and serving a prison term.
The cause was complications of metastatic liver cancer, said Mario Gallucci, Mr. Mastromarino’s lawyer.
The technology that allows the transplant of critical organs also enables the far more common transplant of tissue: bone can be used to repair fractures, veins for heart bypass surgery, and tendons and ligaments can restore mobility. Harvesting organs is allowed in New York state, provided the donor does not carry a potentially communicable disease, the survivors approve, and the person is not too old. But there are nowhere nearly enough willing donors to meet the demand for tissue, so the profit from one body can reach six figures.
Mr. Mastromarino became licensed by New York state to supply tissue banks after his dental license was suspended in 2002 because of drug addiction. He established a network of undertakers, whom he paid up to $1,000 per body, and formed a business based in New Jersey, Biomedical Tissue Services. He reportedly made $10,000 to $15,000 per body.
But he harvested organs and tissue from bodies without consent from survivors, the authorities said, and removed material from people with HIV and other diseases. He then forged paperwork, including consent forms and death certificates, to make the cause of death and age acceptable.
The police began investigating irregularities at the Daniel George & Son Funeral Home in Brooklyn in 2005. News reports included lurid details, like what the police called a secret room in the funeral home equipped with specialized surgical equipment and the fact that one of the victims was Alistair Cooke, the British journalist, whose arm and leg bones were taken even though he had had cancer.
Mr. Mastromarino was charged in 2006. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to numerous charges and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.