Mastromarino, a former "oral surgeon", owned Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS), which supplied tissue to around 10,000 patients across the US.

No medical screening

Prosecutors said that as part of the scheme, a team of so-called "cutters" removed bone, skin and tendons in an unsanitary embalming room.

The bodies were dissected without permission and were not medically screened.

These were then sold to doctors who then used them for dental implants, knee and hip replacements and other transplant procedures.

"I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused," Mastromarino said as he faced relatives of the dead who were in court to deliver statements. "May God have mercy on my soul."

Dayna Ryan contracted Hepatitus B from
a stolen body part [GETTY] 
"He fully recognised the gravity of what he has done," Mario Gallucci, Mastromarino's lawyer said outside the court. "He cut some corner and that is why he is here today."

"His sick, disgusting and appalling actions all in the name of greed, have devastated my family to the point where we can never recover," Dayna Ryan told the court.

Ryan, 44, contracted Hepatitus B after receiving one of the stolen body parts during an operation on her lower spine.

"In all of this, we're trying to find completeness and wholeness for him and we'll never find that, but that's our quest because he was just chopped up ... we're just trying to put him back together," said Karen del Re, whose father was also harvested by BTS.

Co-defendents

Three others who worked with Mastromarino have also been charged, as were a number of funeral home directors. 

Chris Aldorasi, one of the "cutters", was found guilty of enterprise corruption and other criminal counts earlier in June; he was sentenced to between nine and 27 years in jail.

The plundered bodies included that of the veteran British journalist Alistair Cooke, author of the BBC's long-running Letter from America; he died in 2004, aged 95, in New York.

During Aldorasi's trial, Cooke's daughter testified that she had never spoken to BTS about them harvesting her father's body.

"Definitely not," said Susan Cooke-Kitteridge, when sked if she had given permission for the procedure. "My father would have been against that."

Another "cutter", Lee Cruceta, pleaded guilty and testified against Aldorasi and now faces up to 20 years in prison.

A fourth co-defendent is still awaiting trial.