An Israeli man who lives in Brooklyn pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of brokering a kidney transplant as of a black market organ business. This is the first human organ trafficking conviction in the United States.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 60, confessed to three counts of acquiring human organs for transportation and one count of conspiracy in Trenton, N.J. Rosenbaum also admitted that three ailing people paid him a total of $410,000 to arrange illegal kidney transplants. He was caught in an undercover sting operation by the FBI when an agent paid him $10,000.
Lawyers for Rosebaum, who lives in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, tried to paint him as an individual trying to help his fellow man in need.
"The transplant surgeries occurred in prestigious American hospitals and were performed by experienced and expert kidney transplant surgeons," said attorneys Richard Finkel and Ronald Kleinberg in a statement reported by the Associated Press. "The transplants were successful and the donors and the recipients are now leading full and healthy lives... the recipients are no longer burdened by the medical and substantial health dangers associated with dialysis and kidney failure."
Rosenbaum admitted that he would assist the donors and the recipients to coordinate a false story that would deceive hospital officials into believing that the donation was completely voluntary and was not part a monetary transaction.
"Rosenbaum admitted he was not new to the human kidney business when he was caught brokering what he thought was a black market deal," said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, according to CalgaryHerald.com. "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."
Prosecutors say that between 2006 and 2009, Rosenbaum brokered three kidney transplants. The recipients of the organs paid him between $120,000 and $150,000.
Rosenbaum was also arrested in July 2009. The FBI had begun a crackdown on money laundering and political corruption in New Jersey.
If convicted of his most recent crimes, Rosenbaum could serve five years for each count and be ordered to pay a $250,000 fine. Rosenbaum agreed to forfeit his earning and might be deported back to Israel. He is currently under house arrest and will receive sentencing in February.
The practice of buying and selling organs is illegal in almost every country in the world. However, demand for kidneys has grown exponentially, with 4,540 people dying the U.S. last year while for a transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. There are just not enough willful donors to meet the demand and so the organ black market has increased around the globe.
Art Caplan is the co-chairman of the United Nations task force on illegal organ trafficking. He said Rosenbaum is guilty of one of the worst crimes a human being can commit.
"Internationally, about one quarter of all kidneys appear to be trafficked," Caplan said according to CBS news. "But until this case, it had not been a crime recognized as reaching the United States."