On Tuesday, a former Colorado funeral home owner was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for defrauding the families of the dead by dissecting 560 corpses and selling body parts without permission.

Megan Hess, 46, pleaded guilty to fraud in July. She operated a funeral home, Sunset Mesa, and a body parts entity, Donor Services, from the same building in Montrose, Colorado. The term of 20 years was the maximum allowed by law.

According to Reuters, his 69-year-old mother, Shirley Koch, also pleaded guilty for fraud and was sentenced to 15 years. Koch’s central role was to cut up the bodies, court records show.

“Hess and Koch used their funeral home on occasion to steal bodies and body parts using forged and fraudulent donor forms,” prosecutor Tim Neff said in a court filing.

“Hess and Koch’s conduct caused immense emotional pain to the families and next of kin.”

The federal case was triggered by a 2016-2018 Reuters Investigative Series about the sale of body parts in the United States, a virtually unregulated industry.

Former workers told Reuters that Hess and Koch carried out unauthorized dismemberment of bodies, and a few weeks after a history 2018 was published, the FBI raided the business.

In their filing, prosecutors emphasized the “macabre nature” of Hess’s scheme, describing it as one of the most significant body parts cases in recent US history.

“This is the most emotionally draining case I have ever experienced in court,” US District Judge Christine M. Arguello said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“It is troubling to the court that defendant Hess refuses to take any responsibility for her conduct.”

The judge ordered that Hess and Koch be sent to prison immediately.

Hess’s attorney said she has been unfairly vilified as a “witch,” a “monster” and a “ghoul” when instead she is a “broken human being” whose behavior can be attributed to a traumatic brain injury at age 18. . court on Tuesday, Hess refused to speak to the judge.

Koch told the judge that he was sorry and took responsibility for his actions.

Twenty-six victims described their horror at finding out what had happened to their loved ones.

“Our sweet mother, they dismembered her,” said Erin Smith, selling her shoulders, knees and feet for a profit. “We don’t even have a name for such a heinous crime.”

Tina Shanon, whose mother was dismembered against her will, told the court: “I have worn a lot of masks to cover the pain. I’ll never be okay.”

It is illegal in the United States to sell organs such as hearts, kidneys, and tendons for transplantation; they must be donated. But the sale of body parts like heads, arms and spines, which is what Hess did, for use in research or education is not regulated by federal law.

Hess committed crimes, prosecutors said, when he defrauded relatives of the deceased by lying about cremations and dissecting bodies and selling them without permission.

The surgical training firms and other businesses that purchased Hess’ arms, legs, heads and torsos were unaware they had been obtained fraudulently, prosecutors said.

At his funeral home, Hess charged families up to $1,000 for cremations that never happened, prosecutors said, and offered free cremations to others in exchange for a donation of the body.

Prosecutors said he lied to more than 200 families, who received cremated ashes from containers mixed with the remains of different corpses.