In what is the first conviction under the U.S. federal statute outlawing black-market organ sales, a Brooklyn man named Levy Izhak Rosenbaum pleaded guilty Thursday to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for at least $120,000 each (a huge markup) and conspiring to arrange yet another sale. He boasted on tape that he actually handled “quite a lot” during the decade-long scheme.
At 60 years of age, Rosenbaum is but one of 46 people arrested in 2009 in a massive federal corruption probe dubbed “Operation Big Rig” that ensnared dozens of officials, politicians, community and religious leaders involved in organ sales, money laundering, and political corruption over an investigative period of 10 years.
From January 2006 to February 2009, Rosenbaum conspired to obtain kidneys from paid donors in exchange for payments of $120,000, $150,000 and $140,000 from three recipients of the organs.
“Rosenbaum admitted he was not new to the human kidney business when he was caught brokering what he thought was a black-market deal,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a release.
“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.”
Rosenbaum faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced February 2. He agreed to forfeit $420,000 he received in connection with the three transplants and admitted that he invented cover stories and fictitious relationships between donors and recipients so doctors wouldn’t know a kidney was being sold.
His black market involvement was exposed with the help of Solomon Dwek, a cooperating criminal defendant who helped prosecutors develop charges against defendants in the “Operation Big Rig” case. Posed as an employee of Dwek and claiming that her uncle needed a transplant, an undercover agent met with Rosenbaum in mid-February 2008. He told them that it was illegal to buy and sell organs but that he had been “doing this a long time” and explained that he would help the recipient and donor concoct a false story to support the appearance of a legitimate donation, Fishman said. Rosenbaum also claimed he would be in charge of “babysitting” the donor after the person arrived from overseas.
“I am what you call a matchmaker,” he told the snitch. “I’ve never had a failure.”
During Thursday’s plea, Rosenbaum admitted that he typically located Israelis who were willing to be paid for giving up their kidneys and that he was responsible for travel arrangements for the donor to the United States along with their accomodations pre- and post-operation. He arranged for blood samples and helped each paid donor and recipient fabricate stories to fool hospital staff. His lawyers noted that the surgeries took place in “prestigious American hospitals and were performed by experienced and expert” surgeons. He remains free on bail and under house arrest pending sentencing scheduled for February 2, 2012.
Methuselah Foundation’s New Organ Prize not only serves to catalyze progress in tissue and organ regeneration but it also aims to make the crimes of the black market a thing of the past. In a future where an individual in need of an organ can have one made with their own cells, the market for organs exploited from the disadvantaged and weak will eventually shrink and disappear altogether.
We at Methuselah Foundation echo the words of Attorney Fishman: “We will not tolerate such an affront to human dignity.”
Golson, Jennifer. “Brooklyn Man Who Sold Kidneys on Black Market Pleads Guilty.” Thomson Reuter News and Insight. Thomson Reuters, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.
Photo Credit: Tony Kurdzuk | The Star-Ledger