A male nurse in the United States admitted Wednesday he was the lead cutter of body parts from 244 corpses in a group that trafficked in more than 1,000 stolen body parts for the lucrative transplant market.
Authorities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, say nurse Lee Cruceta also helped forge paperwork so the parts, some of them diseased, could be used in unsuspecting patients.
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, taking part in a corrupt organization, abuse of a corpse and 244 counts each of theft and forgery. Cruceta, 35, also has pleaded guilty to related charges in New York and negotiated pleas to serve concurrent sentences of 6 1/2 to 20 years.
He is expected to testify against the other defendants, and won't be formally sentenced until those cases are resolved.
Several funeral directors have pleaded guilty in New York, and the accused ringleader Michael Mastromarino, 44, is being held in the case. Three funeral directors in Philadelphia have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Assistant Philadelphia District Attorney Bruce Sagel told a judge that Mastromarino also is expected to plead guilty. The timing of his plea was uncertain.
His lawyer, Mario Gallucci, earlier told The Associated Press that Mastromarino plans to tell prosecutors about the companies that bought the stolen specimens.
Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon, paid funeral directors 1,000 U.S. dollars per corpse, and then sold the parts to tissue banks, Sagel said. The body parts fetched up to 10,000 dollars apiece, though the tissue banks resold them to hospitals for many times that amount, he said.