The NY “Body-Snatchers” Case: Why Do Good People Do Bad Things? It May Be That They Aren’t The Good People They Think They Are….

I intended to write a post after seeing Tony Dye’s 2010 documentary “Body Snatchers of New York” a few years ago. Through a series of interviews with law enforcement officials, lawyers, journalists and victims, it tells the story of a sensational case out of Brooklyn in 2006 where a former dentist and his associates operating a company called Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, New Jersey, conspired with funeral homes to steal human bone and skin from dead bodies. The tissue was then sold to various processing companies to make medical products, including dental implants and spinal disc replacements. These, in turn were sold to hospitals to be transplanted.

In some cases, the families of the deceased individuals were told that their loved ones had been cremated when in truth they had been carved up and skinned. One such body belonged to the late Masterpiece Theater host, Allistair Cooke. Biomedical Tissue Services made as much as $250,000 from processing each body. In addition to lying to families and not receiving consent to distribute tissue and bone from corpses, the company also routinely sold body remnants from dead individuals who had suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis, and other diseases that compromised the safety of the tissue without informing their purchasers, tissue recipients or their doctors.

Michael Mastromarino of Fort Lee was the mastermind of the operation. (That’s him above.) He is the “star” of the documentary, speaking from prison where he died (of bone cancer, appropriately) a few years later. The astounding and infuriating aspect of his comments is that he admits taking and chopping up the bodies without the consent of the deceaseds’ families. He admits using forged documents and other fraudulent documentation to distribute the bone and tissue to the processing companies. Nonetheless, he insists that he is a “good person” who just miscalculated somehow. Mastromarino genuinely wants the audience’s sympathy as he laments how his reputation has been destroyed and his family has been shamed—and all because he wanted to help people and do something good for society. In his eyes, he was a tragic figure.

That was really his perspective, and it seems genuine. The companies, he explained, could never get enough of what he offered, and living people, suffering people, were in desperate need. The supply of legally donated bodies didn’t begin to satisfy the demand; he was just providing what society needed and couldn’t get any other way.

Repeatedly, Mastromarino insists he “never hurt anyone.” He replaced bones in cadavers’ legs with plumbing pipe, and performed acts on corpses that gave their families nightmares when they learned about them, but “nobody was hurt.” Besides, living people got bone and tissue they desperately needed and might not have received any other way.

The fact that Mastromarino made a millions from this racket didn’t make him feel like he had done anything wrong: it’s just supply and demand, and he earned his money. That what he sold was often from older people that he represented to the processing companies as being young and healthy, or from people with serious injuries or diseases, he brushed off in the film, denying that it made any difference. The laws, he says, are the problem; they are absurdly restrictive, and make people like him engage in crimes to help people. Mastromarino seems to validate his conduct because the businesses that enables his crimes were “legitimate businesses” and “traded on Wall Street.” They wouldn’t have engage in the bone and tissue harvesting if it was wrong. (This, one of dozens of rationalizations at play here, is Rationalization #14. Self-validating Virtue.)

At one point in the documentary, he breaks down sobbing. Mastromarino really believed that he was a victim, a tragic figure.

It is a clinical study in self-delusion, denial, rationalization-poisoning and malfunctioning ethics alarms

You can view “Body Snatchers of New York” here.

4 thoughts on “The NY “Body-Snatchers” Case: Why Do Good People Do Bad Things? It May Be That They Aren’t The Good People They Think They Are….

  1. Yikes. I think I’ll take a pass. I just had a bone graft done a few months ago after a root canal failed and a molar had to be removed. All I know is the bits of bone came from some outfit in Texas.

  2. This is what I think happens with the Hillary Clintons and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. They are Leftists and are convinced that leftists are good. Therefore, they are good because they vote for women’s rights, any environmental legislation, etc. People that don’t are evil. Since they are evil, they are worse than me. No matter what I do at this point, all those other people are worse, so they must be doing worse stuff than me. Harvey Weinstein was abusing women, but he probably assumed that those evil conservatives were doing it even worse than he was. Everyone in Hollywood knew Harvey Weinstein was abusing women, but they still felt he was a good person and a supporter women because he was a good Democrat. They felt that Harvey Weinstein-level abuse was the kind of thing ‘good’ people like them do, suggesting they all do that level of evil.

    Proposed Leftist Thought Process
    (1) I am a good person because I support ‘good’ causes
    (2) People who don’t support ‘good’ causes are worse people than me
    (3) I do terrible stuff
    (4) The people that don’t support ‘good’ causes MUST be doing even worse stuff than me. I am good and look at the perverse stuff I am doing, imagine what those conservatives are doing.
    (5) Conservatives are evil because if they do worse stuff than me, that is unfathomable evil.

  3. Everyone thinks they’re a good person. It’s just a fact of life.

    This comes up a lot for Mrs. Zechman, who is a recruiter for an IT contracting company that does a lot of work for the federal government. Often she is trying to fill a position that requires the candidate to be able to get either a security clearance or a “Public Trust” (which is essentially a less-stringent version of a clearance).

    When someone already has the required credential, it’s a slam-dunk, but most people don’t. It’s a routine thing to inform the potential hire that the clearance/trust is required and to ask if that poses a problem. (Of course, it’s not legal to ask pointed questions about the candidate’s past for things that would be a red flag.)

    Everyone . . . EVERYONE . . . responds along the lines of “Sure, no problem.”

    And then after the investigation has begun and it comes back that that candidate has a criminal record, or a long history of illegal drug use, or lied about something on the application; she always seems to be surprised. I’m never surprised.

    You see, the first problem is that most people don’t actually know what a security clearance IS, let alone what sorts of specific things would prevent one from being granted. So people just kind of fall back on thinking (erroneously) that it just comes down to some kind of decision on whether someone is a good person or not, and thus trustworthy.

    The second problem is that–you guessed it–everyone thinks they’re a good person.

    Whenever *I* broach the subject with someone, I put it to them like this:
    “This position requires you to get a security clearance. There will be an official government investigation, and they will be looking for things like X, Y, and Z. If they find anything like that, they are highly unlikely to grant the clearance. Now I’m not *asking*, and I don’t want to know; but if there’s anything in your background that would run afoul of any of those things, do yourself a favor and quietly back away from trying to get this job so neither your time or mine gets wasted here.

    Even after I get that specific, I’ve still had a couple of occasions where someone went ahead and then got denied–because everyone thinks they’re a good person.


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