by Jon Hurdle

Last Updated: 2008-04-30 10:01:58 -0400 (Reuters Health)

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Families who claim the corpses of more than 1,000 relatives were dismembered and sold in an illegal body-parts scandal sued funeral directors and others on Tuesday.

The class action suit represents hundreds of people who claim their relatives’ body parts were harvested for medical use without their consent.

It charges seven individuals, and the funeral homes and human tissue services with which they worked, with conspiracy, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The seven were indicted by a grand jury last September and accused of harvesting bones, skin and tendons in unsanitary conditions, and selling them to hospitals with the risk that they could infect patients who received them.

The defendants allegedly made $3.8 million from sale of body parts obtained in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey between February 2004 and September 2005 in an operation that was "ghoulish, greedy, dangerous and criminal," the grand jury’s report said.

In all, the scheme took tissue from 1,007 bodies, including 244 from Philadelphia funeral homes.

The suit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common pleas, alleges that after removing parts from the corpses, the accused replaced harvested bone and tissue with foreign objects such as PVC piping "so that bodies would still appear normal for their pending visitations, funerals, or post-mortem proceedings."

The defendants also falsified medical documents in order to take the body parts, including one claiming that the wife of a deceased man had given permission for his tissues to be harvested. The man, James Bonner, had never been married to the woman named in the document, the suit says.

"We must hold the responsible parties and their accomplices accountable," Larry Cohan, an attorney representing the families, said in a statement. "These families have experienced terrible suffering — they deserve to know the truth and get on with their lives."

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are also representing the families of "hundreds" of people who received body parts harvested in the operation.

Named in the suit are Michael Mastromarino, Christopher Aldorasi, Lee Cruceta, Kevin Vickers, Gerald Garzone, his brother Louis Garzone and James McCafferty.

Five of the accused face criminal charges at a trial scheduled to begin on Sept. 2.

(Editing by Timothy Gardner and David Wiessler)

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