In addition to appealing her federal prison sentence, former Montrose mortuary operator Megan Hess also intends to appeal the restitution order the U.S. District Court issued last week.
Hess, who owned Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors and Donor Services Inc., is currently serving a 20-year term at a federal prison in Minnesota. In 2022, she pleaded guilty to mail fraud for her role in a long-running scheme to acquire human remains and sell them without their survivors’ knowledge or consent, or, in some instances, permission only for a partial donation.
Hess, with her mother, Shirley Koch, accepted money for cremations that did not occur, and represented ashes as those of specific deceased individuals when giving the cremains back to family members — as, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, a means of covering their tracks. Often, the cremations had not occurred, because the bodies had been sold, according to the government’s findings.
Koch also pleaded guilty to mail fraud and is serving a 15-year term.
On March 6, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello ordered the women to pay $436,427 in restitution to the victims of the Sunset Mesa body-sale scheme; each are equally liable for ensuring the full amount is paid.
Hess, who objected to the government’s stance that hundreds of surviving family members were victims who are entitled to restitution, on March 12 filed notice of appeal.
The appeal brief itself is pending, as is any response. Initial documents are due March 27.
Hess, in filings prior to the order of restitution, argued that restitution did not apply to next of kin because the law did not define them as victims. Further, any restitution ordered should be offset by the cost of services that she did provide.
She also argued those who had filed civil suits against Sunset Mesa Funeral Foundation were not entitled to restitution in the criminal case.
The government in response said the families were defrauded by Hess’ false promises when they contracted with her for funeral services and thus, are victims.
Also, only those litigants who have actually received the full amount ordered in civil judgments should have their portion of the federal restitution adjusted, the USAO said.