WASHINGTON - A New York man pleaded guilty Thursday to brokering the sale of black-market organs from people in Israel in what prosecutors said was the first ever US conviction for illegally selling human kidneys for profit.
Levy Yitzhak Rosenbaum pleaded guilty in federal court to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for New Jersey-based customers in exchange for payments of $120,000 or more. He also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to broker an illegal kidney sale.
Each of the four counts carries a maximum five-year prison sentence plus a fine of up to $250,000. Rosenbaum also agreed to forfeit $420,000 in real or personal property that was derived from the illegal kidney sales.
Rosenbaum arrested in major FBI sting
Rosenbaum's attorney told the court that Rosenbaum saved the lives of people whose health had deteriorated and who could not afford to wait on the transplant list he added that Rosenbaum was doing a 'Mitzvah'.
Prosecutors say Rosenbaum would buy organs from vulnerable people in Israel for $10,000 and sell them to desperate patients. As part of the scheme, prosecutor say, the organ donors were brought from Israel to the US, where they underwent surgery to remove the kidneys. They did not identify which hospitals in the US received the donors and their kidneys.
Rosenbaum, 60, was arrested in 2009 in New Jersey's largest ever corruption sting. He was one of more than 40 people arrested, including politicians and rabbis in New Jersey and New York. Though he was not a rabbi himself, the image of rabbis illegally selling kidneys made international headlines.
Rosenbaum was arrested after he tried to set up a kidney sale to a man posing as a crooked businessman but who actually was government informant Solomon Dwek, a disgraced real estate speculator facing prison time for a $50 million bank fraud.
Dwek brought Rosenbaum an undercover FBI agent posing as his secretary, who claimed to be searching for a kidney for a sick uncle on dialysis who was on a transplant list at a Pennsylvania hospital.
"I am what you call a matchmaker," Rosenbaum said in a secretly recorded conversation. "I bring a guy what I believe, he's suitable for your uncle."
'Portable organ farms'Asked how many organs he had brokered, he said: "Quite a lot," the most recent two weeks earlier.
Art Caplan, a co-chairman of a United Nations task force on organ trafficking, said Rosenbaum's case was the first proven instance of illegal organ trafficking in the United States.
"What this man has pleaded guilty to is one of the most ethically heinous and despicable things you can do to another person," Caplan said.
"Moving desperately poor people under false pretentions from one country to another, and treating them as portable organ farms that you mine for the rich, not only compromises their health, it degrades their basic human dignity."
Under US law, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly buy or sell organs for transplant. The practice is illegal just about everywhere else in the world.
But demand for kidneys far outstrips the supply, with 4,540 people dying in the US last year while waiting for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. As a result, there is a thriving black market for kidneys around the world.
Associated Press contriuted to the report
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