Megan Hess, accused by federal authorities two years ago of illegally selling body parts and giving fake ashes to clients out of her Western Slope funeral home, has reached a plea deal with federal authorities — just weeks before she was set to stand trial, court documents show.
Hess’ lawyer filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court, saying a disposition has been reached and asking the court for a change-of-plea hearing. Terms of the potential deal were not disclosed.
Neither Hess nor her attorney could be reached Wednesday. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the plea deal.
A federal grand jury in March 2020 indicted Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, on a host of charges related to illegally selling body parts or entire bodies without the consent of the family of the deceased out of the Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors in Montrose.
Hess and Koch were charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials. If convicted of mail fraud, each face up to 20 years in federal prison, per count. The other charges carry five years of prison time, per count. The pair, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, were set to stand trial next month in federal court.
Koch’s name did not appear in Friday’s motion, and it is unclear if she has also reached a plea deal. Koch and her attorney could not immediately be reached.
Authorities alleged the pair would offer to cremate bodies for families and provide them back their remains. But many of these cremations never happened. Instead, they alleged Koch and Hess sold parts of bodies — or entire bodies — to companies around the globe for significant profit.
Some of these bodies or body parts belonged to people who had died from infectious diseases, including HIV, authorities alleged.
In a March 8 court filing, Hess accused her mother of throwing her under the bus to law enforcement, while allegedly admitting or implying guilt.
Koch, in two interviews with law enforcement in February 2018, allegedly told investigators that Hess was the “brains” behind the operation, that the funeral home did not keep proper records and that cremated remains would be mixed because it was “‘too hard’ to keep things separate,” Hess’ attorney wrote in the motion, which sought to separate her trial from her mother’s.
Koch, according to Hess’ motion, questioned the need for testing bodies for disease, saying it was “‘apparent’ if a body had Hepatitis C or HIV.”
“She was the business part of it,” Koch told an FBI agent, according to an interview transcript included in Koch’s response to Hess’ motion to sever the cases. “I was really the labor part of it.”
Families that used Sunset Mesa never realized, until an FBI raid, that the urns sitting in their living rooms or on their mantels did not, in fact, contain their loved ones’ remains.
Individuals from across the Western Slope told The Denver Post in 2018 about the heartache that has come with finding out that their parents or siblings or best friends were shipped off somewhere without their knowledge. The victims have formed support groups and kept in touch over the years, leaning on others who can relate to their grief.
Several have sued Hess and Koch, saying the Sunset Mesa operators crudely dismembered their loved ones, while delivering them fake cremains. Some of those cases have been resolved, while others remain in litigation.
The Sunset Mesa case promoted Colorado legislators to pass several new laws over the past few years: One limits funeral home operators from also running body broker businesses; another increases oversight power for state regulators to inspect funeral homes; and a third makes it a felony to abuse a corpse.
The funeral home and its operators were initially exposed in a Reuters investigation in January 2018, which found Sunset Mesa to be the only business in the country operating a funeral home, a crematorium and a body broker shop all from the same location.
Soon after, the FBI raided the location.
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