Families sue NM firms, saying they don’t know whose ashes they received after loved ones died

By Sue Major Holmes, AP
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Families sue over how NM company treated bodies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A New Mexico man received what he thought were the cremated remains of his wife’s body after donating her organs to science — only to learn a few weeks later that police found her body, intact, at the company that was supposed to handle the donation.

Philip Fajardo is now one of two people suing the Albuquerque firm, Bio Care, alleging it gave them ashes it represented as the remains of their loved ones. They say authorities later told them at least parts of the bodies had never been cremated.

“In these instances, they were given an urn full of ashes and they have no way of knowing what those ashes were,” said their attorney, Sam Bregman. “They could be burnt up paper for all they know.”

Fajardo, of Bernalillo County, and Farrah Fasold of Denton County, Texas, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in state district court in Albuquerque seeking unspecified damages against Bio Care and two Bernalillo County companies, New Mexico Mortuary Service Inc. and Director’s Choice LLC.

The families were “extremely distressed when they learned that their loved ones’ remains had been mistreated,” the complaint said.

They allege negligence by all three companies; fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the Unfair Practices Act by Bio Care; and conspiracy by the other two companies.

Bio Care harvested organs from donated bodies to sell for medical research, then was supposed to cremate the remains and return the ashes to the families.

But authorities began raising questions last month after finding body parts at a Kansas City, Kan., medical waste company, Stericycle Inc. They discovered the body parts belonged to people whose cremated remains had been returned to families.

Bio Care’s owner, Paul Montano, was arrested March 31 on fraud charges after seven heads, a torso and several limbs found in Kansas were traced to Bio Care. New Mexico investigators also found dozens of bodies and body parts at the Albuquerque company.

Montano’s attorney did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Wednesday.

In Fajardo’s case, the lawsuit said, Bio Care gave him ashes last month identified as those of his wife, who died Jan. 25.

He was not only told her organs had been harvested for research, but that her hip had been sent to a German research facility because it was of particular medical importance, the lawsuit said.

Then authorities found her body intact, its organs unharvested, the complaint said.

Fasold’s father, Harold Dillard, died in December, and his body was turned over to Bio Care. After several delays, Bio Care sent her a package it said contained her father’s ashes, the lawsuit said.

But authorities identified her father’s arm among the remains shipped to Kansas to be incinerated. Days later, they found his head and other body parts in containers with remains of other people, the lawsuit said.

His torso and other remains have not been located or identified, it said.

The criminal complaint against Montano listed Dillard and two other people whose body parts were identified at Stericycle.

The lawsuit said New Mexico Mortuary Services issued his death certificate and Director’s Choice issued one for Mrs. Fajardo.

New Mexico Mortuary Services owner Charlie Finegan said his firm did nothing wrong.

“In a nutshell, they’re just throwing a grenade out there,” he said.

His company offers cremation to firms licensed by the state, including Bio Care, and can issue death certificates before a body’s final disposition, Finegan said.

He said he was waiting for Montano to turn over the body for cremation, “and he never did.”

Craig Glover, owner of Director’s Choice, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

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