Kidney Organ Trafficking Suspect Convicted

A New York man, who illegally sold kidneys, was convicted Thursday for what experts said was the first ever proven case of black-market organ trafficking in the United States. Levy Izhak Rosenbaum admitted in federal court in Trenton that he had brokered three illegal organ transplants from people in Israel for U.S.-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.

His attorneys said Rosenbaum had performed a lifesaving service for desperately ill people who had been languishing on official transplant waiting lists. “The transplants were successful and the donors and recipients are now leading full and healthy lives,” Ronald Kleinberg and Richard Finkel stated.

The lawyers added that Rosenbaum had never solicited clients, but that recipients had sought him out, and that the kidney donors he arranged were fully aware of what they were doing. They said the money involved was for expenses associated with the procedures, which they say were performed in prestigious American hospitals by experienced surgeons and transplant experts. The lawyers did not name the hospitals involved, nor are they named in court documents.

“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,” said New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman. “We will not tolerate such an affront to human dignity.”

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 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.

Art Caplan, a co-chairman of a United Nations task force on organ trafficking, said kidneys are the most common of all trafficked organs because they can be harvested from live donors, unlike other organs. He said Rosenbaum had pleaded guilty to one of the “most heinous crimes against another human being.”

“Internationally, about one quarter of all kidneys appear to be trafficked,” says Caplan. “But until this case, it had not been a crime recognized as reaching the United States.”

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