But the recruiters were actually flirtatious models in heels, short skirts and lab coats, law enforcement officials say, asking passers-by for DNA swabs without mentioning the price of the seemingly simple procedure. And the registry, Caitlin Raymond International, was paying up to $60,000 a week for the models while billing insurance companies up to $4,300 per test.
In New Hampshire, where prosecutors say thousands of people appeared to have provided swabs, the attorney general is investigating the registry's marketing and billing practices. The registry is a nonprofit subsidiary of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, which said Thursday that it had stopped seeking donors in New Hampshire and using models altogether.
James T. Boffetti, the state's senior assistant attorney general, said the registry had hired models based on their photographs and had given them "explicit instructions" to wear heels and short skirts. The registry paid the models to approach potential donors at dozens of malls and events throughout New England, Mr. Boffetti said.
"The models worked the crowds, if you will," he said. "We were told basically they would engage a lot of younger men with some sort of flirtatious thing: 'Hey, don't you want to be a hero? Come on, do this!' "
If people expressed interest, Mr. Boffetti said, the models — who, for reasons that remain unclear, sometimes also wore electric-blue wigs — would hand them off to registry employees who would take mouth swabs.
"They got people to do this without telling them it could be a charge of $4,300 against their insurance," he said.
New Hampshire passed a law in 2006 requiring insurers to pay for tissue-typing tests for potential bone marrow donors. But at the time, Mr. Boffetti said, proponents told lawmakers that each test would cost $100 or less.
The state started investigating Caitlin Raymond International Registry last week after the city of Manchester, which is self-insured, complained that it had been billed more than $8,000 after two employees provided mouth swabs at the Mall of New Hampshire. The registry also recruited by setting up kiosks at Red Sox and Patriots games, bridal and auto shows, and colleges.
In its statement, UMass Memorial said it had recruited more than 185,000 potential donors in New England, using models "to help acquaint the public on how they can contribute to this lifesaving effort."
A hospital spokesman said there would be no further comment. Mr. Boffetti said the models had come from an agency in Boston, but he would not identify it, citing the continuing investigation.
Michael Boo, chief strategy officer for the National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit group in Minneapolis that oversees the world's largest registry of marrow donors, said it sometimes recruited at malls but had never considered enlisting the help of models.
"We hadn't heard of that until just this week," Mr. Boo said. "It's not a practice we follow."