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GAVEL TO GAVEL

By Tom Tracy

Making his own arrangements A modern-day grave-robber nabbed in last year’s headline-grabbing body parts scandal is digging his own grave – and a comfortable one to boot — with the help of Brooklyn prosecutors. During a courtroom appearance last week, funeral home employee Lee Cruceta, 35, pleaded guilty to the charges of forgery and body stealing, in exchange for eight to 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are reportedly going to ask the presiding judge to instruct that Cruceta does the minimum, since the former funeral home worker is expected to testify against the remaining three suspects in the body-looting scandal. Cruceta was accused of looting corpses in East Harlem’s New York Mortuary and other funeral homes throughout the city, according to published reports. His alleged colleagues, ringleader Michael Mastromarino, Joseph Nicelli and Christopher Aldorasi, are all still facing a 122-count criminal indictment involving enterprise corruption, forgery, grand larceny, unlawful dissection and body stealing and opening graves. If convicted, each man could face up to 25 years in prison. Officials alleged that Nicelli, Cruceta and Aldorasi would take corpses they acquired at city funeral parlors to Daniel George and Sons in Bath Beach, where the bodies were cut open and robbed of bones, tissue and other vital organs. The materials would then be given to Mastromarino, who would allegedly sell them to hospitals through his New Jersey-based biomedical tissue company. The group would falsify organ donation forms to show that it was the deceased person’s wish to have their organs contributed to those who needed them, charged officials. They would also forge death certificates, so they could plunder diseased organs from people who died of cancer and other maladies without anyone knowing, officials alleged. After removing the body parts, the suspects re-stitched the bodies up, replacing the stolen bones and organs with their bloodied rags, aprons and PVC piping to make it appear that the bodies hadn’t been tampered with, officials charged. They were then sent back to funeral homes for services, officials said. The trail against Mastromarino and his crew could begin sometime in the next few months, officials said. But their alleged crimes were not confined to the city. This past October, prosecutors in Philadelphia indicted Mastromarino and several funeral home directors from the city of brotherly love for pillaging the remains of 244 residents without the consent of family members. “No penalty is too harsh for these guys, for the just unbelievably craven nature of what they did,” Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said at a recent news conference. Philadelphia prosecutors said that the corpses funneled to Mastromarino from the funeral directors amounts to nearly one third of the 1077 bodies that were illegally harvested in the ever-widening horror show. According to prosecutors, Mastromarino would recruit the help of funeral directors in different states for the bodies, offering them $1,000 apiece. Girlfriend trouble A Massachusetts man stewing in a prison cell for a Brooklyn killing he allegedly committed in 1993 filed to have his conviction commuted, claiming that his attorney didn’t put on a bombshell witness at his trial who could have cleared him. In papers reviewed by Judge Yvonne Lewis last month, Willie Kearse pushed to vacate his 1995 conviction for the murder of Devon Brown and the attempted murder of Raymondo Frazier, who were both shot during a drive-by shooting. In his motion, Kearse claimed that his attorney “failed to investigate, contact, interview or call his then girlfriend and alibi witness Shirene Cirino Mosley.” Kearse claims that in an affidavit obtained by a private investigator working on his behalf in 2006, Mosley “had contacted his retained counsel and advised him that she had been with him in Fitchburg, Massachusetts” on the day of the Brooklyn murder. His attorney did not call Mosley to testify because he had called another woman that Kearse lived with, who gave an alibi, but not a strong one. That witness claimed that she didn’t specifically remember seeing Kearse on the day of the murder, but usually saw him every day for dinner and believed that he was home that fateful night. Kearse said that his attorney refused to put Mosley on the stand because the other witness “did such a wonderful job.” “We got this case in the bag,” the attorney said back then, according to court papers. “Don’t worry yourself.” Apparently, a jury didn’t agree with the attorney’s assessment, especially after three out of four prosecution witnesses identified Kearse as the shooter and identified by his nickname “Guns.” Kearse is currently serving 25 year in prison. Despite his decision not to call Mosley, Judge Lewis found that Kearse’s attorney provided “meaningful representation which does not fall outside the wide range of professional competent assistance” and denied the convict’s motion.

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