Montrose funeral home operators face charges

Jason Dunn

The operators of a Montrose funeral home faces charges they illegally sold bodies and body parts without the consent of the families of the deceased.

Megan Hess and her mother, Shirley Koch, operators of the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home were arrested. They appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Grand Junction, where they were advised of their rights and the charges against them. Hess and Koch were each charged with six counts of mail fraud and three counts of illegal transportation of hazardous materials.

U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn announced the arrest and charges in conjunction with the Denver Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General.

“The defendants are charged with committing a blatant fraud on many, many victims,” Dunn said. “This betrays a fundamental trust during one of the worst times in a person’s life — having to make arrangements for a deceased loved one. It is hard to imagine the pain and worry of those who used Sunset Mesa and not knowing what happened to their loved ones’ remains.”

According to a grand jury indictment, Hess and Koch operated Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors from 2010 through 2018, purporting to provide burial and cremation services. Hess also created a nonprofit called Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation, a body broker service doing business as Donor Services out of the same location.

According to the indictment, Hess and Koch on at least a dozen instances didn’t follow family wishes or obtain authorization for Donor Services to transfer bodies or body parts to third parties. In instances in which families agreed to a donation, Hess and Koch sold remains beyond those authorized by the families. Hess and Koch also delivered cremains to families they said were those of the deceased when that wasn’t the case.

In addition, Hess and Koch shipped bodies and body parts that tested positive for or belonged to people who had died from infectious diseases, including hepatitis and HIV. If convicted of mail fraud, Hess and Koch face up to 20 years in federal prison for each count. If convicted of transportation of hazardous materials, they face up to five years in prison for each count. They also face a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

The case will be prosecuted by Jeremy Chaffin, an assistant U.S. attorney in Grand Junction, and Tim Neff, an assistant U.S. attorney in Denver.