Neighbors walking by an infamous Brooklyn funeral home this week were shocked by the sight of bagged bodies piled outside, unrefrigerated and in full view.
“At one point they had 20 bodies outside,” said a local resident who lives a block from the English Brothers Funeral Home in Sheepshead Bay.
“Kids walking by can see them. I was so disgusted that I snuck all the way in one day and saw bodies in bags on gurneys without covers. They’re not refrigerated. I don’t know if these people died of coronavirus or not but if they did and the virus is circulating in the air?”
Frank Restivo, 63, who’s owned the mortuary for decades and who was implicated but not charged in a body-harvesting scandal in 2005, didn’t flinch when The Post called him Friday.
“I know,” he said, when asked about the corpses outside. “We’ve got no more room inside.”
Because of COVID-19, Restivo said that he had 40 bodies packed inside the funeral home Friday and was forced to put the other bodies in the side yard. Prior to coronavirus, he said, he normally has no more than two or three bodies at one time at the funeral home.
Restivo said everyone was unprepared for the number of deaths caused by the pandemic but blamed hospitals. He said they are communicating badly, if at all, with funeral directors and families.
“They’re scaring families by telling them they have two days to pick up the bodies and if not they will be shipped off to Hart’s Island,” Restivo claimed. “The families beg us to take the bodies — which we wish the hospitals could keep a little longer since they have morgues and refrigeration. We’ve never needed refrigeration until now.”
The city charges relatives $250 to go to Hart’s Island and get the bodies back after they’ve been buried out there.
“It’s mayhem,” Restivo said. “People are panicking. I got a woman coming to see me today hysterical. Her loved one is at [a hospital] and they told her he was going to be moved to Connecticut, which made no sense at all.”
Because funeral homes are so backed up, people are opting for cremation, Restivo said. But that’s become difficult as well. He called a crematorium Friday to arrange for the cremation of four bodies but the earliest date he could get was May 19. In the meantime the bodies sit in the unrefrigerated funeral home.
Funeral directors are required to store bodies in appropriate conditions and to follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions, said city Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond. Mike Lanotte, the executive director and CEO of the New York State Funeral Directors Association told the Post he had never heard of a funeral home leaving bodies outside. He said one Queens funeral home has purchased a refrigerated truck to deal with the coronavirus-related overload of bodies.
“We have no choice but to put the bodies outside,” Restivo said. “It’s safe. We have an 8-foot fence and a gate and we lock it.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in 43 years. I never imagined it could happen. We are struggling and it’s terrible for the families.”
Restivo was investigated as part of a 2005 probe into a multi-million dollar scheme to carve up cadavers for profit by selling body parts to medical schools and the military without next-of-kin consent. The ghoulish, nationwide scam involved several funeral homes and was masterminded by Michael Mastromarino, a former dental surgeon who died in jail of liver cancer in 2013.
The secret harvesting of body parts, primarily leg bones used for transplants, netted millions in potential profits, law enforcement sources said.
“Once again the English Brothers funeral home is at the center of an outrageous occurrence,” said lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, who filed civil suits on behalf of relatives of people whose dead bodies were picked apart for profit, as well as the irate recipients of diseased tissue and organs from the corpses. Rubenstein said the English Brothers Funeral Home, one of the defendants, settled for an unspecified amount.