A mother and daughter who ran a funeral home in Colorado were indicted for using the business to sell human remains without the consent of families, authorities said.
Megan Hess, 43, and Shirley Koch, 66, were arrested and charged with six counts each of mail fraud and three counts each of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.
Hess and Koch opened the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose in 2009. That same year, Hess started a nonprofit donor services business that operated out of the same location as the funeral home, according to a press release by the United States Attorney's Office District of Colorado.
A federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday states that the donor service business would harvest human remains and sell them to customers who used them for scientific, medical or educational purposes. Prosecutors allege that the mother and daughter did not always have permission from families to donate the remains.
Hess and Koch used the funeral home to offer grieving families cremation services, but "many never occurred," according to the press release.
They either donated entire bodies or body parts without authorization from the families.
"Hess and Koch also delivered cremains to families with the representation that the cremains were that of the deceased when, frequently, that was not the case," the press release stated.
The duo ran the scheme from 2010 to 2018 and charged at least $1,000 for cremation services. The indictment alleges that they made so much money from the donor services business that they were able to offer lower-priced cremation services than other funeral homes in the area.
"As a result, Hess was able to ensure a constant supply of bodies for her and Koch’s body broker services business," the indictment states.
It's believed that Hess and Koch made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the donor services business, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Jason Dun said the mother and daughter betrayed the trust of families "during one of the worst times in a person's life."
“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," he said in a statement.
If convicted, Hess and Koch could face up to 135 years in prison.