Organ smugglers plead guilty

The funeral directors gave their guilty pleas at a court in New York.

Four other people were charged with illegally harvesting bones and organs from more than 1,000 corpses eight months ago.

The bones harvested are said to have included those of the late veteran BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke.

The Justice Department said the indictment against the original four defendants had been expanded.

They include Michael Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli, Lee Cruceta and Christopher Aldorasi.

In February, authorities alleged that the four men made millions of dollars selling body tissue to transplant companies.

Funeral homes in Rochester, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx have been accused of providing corpses for the smuggling racket.

“These ghoulish thieves thought they could pull off the crime of the century, stealing bones from the dead, without any thoughts to their victims’ families or the transplant recipients who would receive possibly tainted bone and tissue grafts,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a statement.

In many cases, the bones were replaced by PVC pipes so that their theft would not be noticed at a funeral, authorities said.

It’s alleged the accused would toss gloves, aprons, and other evidence of their activity into the bodies before sewing them back up.

The bones, tendons, heart valves and other tissue were harvested in a funeral home owned by Nicelli, authorities said.

Cooke – a nationally recognised broadcaster in Britain – was best known for his Letter From America program which aired weekly on BBC domestic and World Service radio for more than 50 years.

He died in New York in March 2004 from lung cancer. He was 95.