An Israeli-American Levy Yitzhak Rosenbaum, admitted to a federal court that he helped broker black-market kidney transplant deals for wealthy New Jersey customers. The donors, in the alleged black-market organs trade, were from Israel.
Revelations in the court case show Rosenbaum, 60, a member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, made hefty profits in his illegal black-market trade. Rosenbaum, who was arrested by the FBI two years ago, along with several other people, including politicians and rabbis in New Jersey, says he buys organs from people in Israel for $10,000 and resells them to wealthy customers in the U.S. as high as $120,000. The deals generally involved wealthy customers in urgent need of organ transplant.
ABC News reports Rosenbaum was arrested after a FBI informant, pretending to be in urgent need of kidney for an uncle on dialysis, approached him. In the sting operation which led to arrest of Rosenbaum, he was recorded on video bragging to his prospective customer that he had helped broker such deals in the past.
Rosenbaum is the first person ever convicted under a 1984 law prohibiting black market sale of human organs from paid donors.
Rosenbaum's case, according to NJ.com, was fallout of federal investigation into an unrelated case: A federal sting in July 2009 led to arrest of 46 people, including three mayors, two legislators and other persons seeking public office, on charges of money laundering and political corruption. The story, according to NJ.com, began with a Monmouth County real estate investor Solomon Dwek, who was helping investigators after he was caught with a dud check for $25 million. Investigations soon led to Rosenbaum who was known to Dwek as the guy to go to for black market kidney transplant deals.
The FBI arranged for Dwek to go to Rosenbaum in the company of an FBI agent. Dwek pretended his secretary (the FBI agent) had an uncle ill with polycystic kidney disease, and was in need of quick kidney transplant. Part of the surveillance transcript showed Rosenbaum bragging of of his ability to deliver on a deal with a price tag of $160,000:
"I am what you call a matchmaker...My obligation to you is to bring you a person (who) will have it done...If for any reason, for any reason, the guy I will bring you will not go through, then I have to bring you somebody else...One of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to shmear all the time...I take care of (the donor) after; after the surgery also...I place him somewhere. You have to babysit him like a baby because he may have a language problem; maybe not."
Rosenbaum confessed in court before U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton federal court, of accepting deposit from Dwek. He also confessed he had previously arranged other transplants for New Jersey clients in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Rosenbaum admitted he received payments of $120,000 and $140,000 from the kidney recipients.
Rosenbaum's attorneys, arguing in his favor, said Rosenbaum was only providing service for people in urgent need:
"Each of the recipients was suffering from kidney failure, was enduring the pain and serious health dangers associated with kidney dialysis and was facing death unless a transplant was arranged."
According to Hareetz Daily News, Rosenbau's lawyers argued he never solicited clients and that the donors knew full well what they were doing. They also argued most of the money involved went to paying for transplant procedure in high-brow American hospitals. Prosecutors, however, condemned Rosenbaum, saying he knew he was involved in illegal deals, and that he was exploiting vulnerable people in Israel. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said:
"A black market in human organs is not only a grave threat to public health, it reserves lifesaving treatment for those who can best afford it at the expense of those who cannot...We will not tolerate such an affront to human dignity." Haaretz Daily News reports each of the four counts against Rosenbaum carries a maximum of five-year prison sentence, including a fine of up to $250,00. Rosenbaum has agreed to forfeit $420,000 of profits made from the organs sales.
U.S. hospitals have been criticized for not having rigorous procedures for verifying source of organs used in transplants. Under 1984 federal law, buying and selling human organs for transplant is illegal.
But ABC News reports Dr. Linda Chen, surgical director of Live Kidney Program at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, said it is difficult to determine the source of a kidney or any organ for transplant. She says the situation is complicated by the fact that the time patients spend waiting for kidney transplant is very long in the U.S., seven to nine years in New York. Dr. Linda Chen said Rosenbaum's case was,
"...a big blow for the transplant community...We need to get the right message out there about the fact that it’s a highly regulated process governed by the United Network for Organ Sharing and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network."
The demand for kidneys outstrips supply worldwide. Haaretz Daily News reports the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) says 4,540 people died last year in the U.S. because they could not find a kidney donor in time. This, according UNOS, explains why there is a thriving international black market for kidneys. Art Caplan, director of Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and director of United Nations task force on organ trafficking, says kidneys are the most commonly trafficked organs:
"Internationally, about one quarter of all kidneys appear to be trafficked...But until this case, it had not been a crime recognized as reaching the United States."