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Originally published July 9, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Page modified July 9, 2013 at 1:02 PM

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Body parts scammer dies in prison

The former oral surgeon considered the mastermind of an illegal body parts harvesting ring has died at a New York prison, officials said Tuesday.

The Associated Press

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FISHKILL, N.Y. —

The former oral surgeon considered the mastermind of an illegal body parts harvesting ring has died at a New York prison, officials said Tuesday.

Michael Mastromarino, 49, was pronounced dead around 10 a.m. Sunday at St. Luke's Hospital in Cornwall where he had been taken from the medical unit at Fishkill state prison, state corrections officials said.

A medical examiner will determine the cause of death, which appears to be from natural causes, officials said. His attorney told New Jersey media outlets that Mastromarino had cancer.

The former Fort Lee, N.J., dentist was sentenced in 2009 to up to 58 years in prison for his role in a multistate ring that illegally harvested body parts.

Mastromarino's Fort Lee, N.J.-based Biomedical Tissue Services paid funeral homes a standard fee of about $1,000 to harvest body parts from a donor corpse, and authorities said the business was fueled by misrepresentation.

Death certificates were forged to hide diseases such as cancer and AIDS and to lower the ages of the deceased to make the stolen specimens more desirable, authorities said. Some donors never gave permission for the tissue donations and thought their loved ones were being cremated quickly, investigators said. Bodies were often left unrefrigerated for days, sometimes in alleys beside the funeral home, authorities said.

The scandal emerged in February 2006 when Mastromarino and others were accused of cutting up corpses from funeral homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The bodies included that of "Masterpiece Theatre" host Alistair Cooke. The sometimes-diseased parts were sold and used in about 10,000 surgical procedures performed by unsuspecting doctors across North America.

Mastromarino paid the operators of one Philadelphia funeral home more than $245,000 for at least 244 cadavers between February 2004 and October 2005. Mastromarino would then send a "cutting" crew to Philadelphia to dissect the bodies.

The tissue stolen from a single body often fetched about $4,000, and Mastromarino made millions from the scheme, prosecutors said at trial.

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