Lifestyle & Belief

Black market kidney broker pleads guilty


A man rests in his hospital room in the medical center at the University of Chicago on June 6, 2003, after kidney, liver and heart transplants.


Tim Boyle

A Brooklyn, N.Y., man has pled guilty to charges that he brokered three illegal kidney transplants, CBS News reports.

Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 60, said in federal court in Trenton that he had helped three Americans obtain kidneys from Israelis for payments of $120,000 or more, according to CBS News. The transplants were performed in American hospitals.

The case is believed to be the first-ever proven case of organ trafficking in the U.S., CBS News reports. It’s been illegal to buy or sell human organs in the U.S. since 1984, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

According to CBS News:

Demand for kidneys outstrips the supply, with 4,540 people dying in the U.S. 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.

Rosenbaum’s lawyers, Ronald Kleinberg and Richard Finkel, issued a statement stating his motivation was to save the lives of people on transplant waiting lists, ABC News reports. “The transplants were successful and the donors and recipients are now leading full and healthy lives,” the attorneys said.

Rosenbaum’s lawyers also claimed the transplants were performed at top American hospitals by experienced surgeons and transplant experts, CBS News reports.

However, others described Rosenbaum’s crime as objectionable on many fronts.

"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," New Jersey's U.S. Attorney, Paul Fishman, told CBS News. "We will not tolerate such an affront to human dignity."

Five people familiar with the case told Bloomberg Businessweek that one Rosenbaum client had his kidney transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“All potential donors and recipients are interviewed multiple times by a team of providers during a rigorous screening process,” Gary Stephenson, media relations director at Johns Hopkins, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “However, no matter how thorough our policies and procedures are, the pre- transplant evaluation may not detect premeditated and skillful attempts to undermine and deceive the evaluation process.”

If convicted, Rosenbaum faces 20 years in prison and a fine, and he will have to pay back the $420,000 he earned brokering the illegal transactions, ABC News reports.