A U.S. Organ Trafficking Conviction

by Kieran Healy on July 12, 2012

Levy Izhak Rosenbaum gets 30 months (though he may end up being deported to Israel) for brokering kidney sales in New York, something which I don’t think has happened before in the United States:

He pleaded guilty in October to three counts of organ trafficking and one of conspiracy. … Three ailing people in New Jersey paid Rosenbaum a total of $410,000 to arrange the sale of kidneys from healthy donors, and an undercover FBI agent paid him $10,000. … Rosenbaum told a federal agent that he began brokering kidney sales around 1999, recruited Israelis to sell their organs and charged Americans as much as $160,000 a kidney. He told the agent that he had arranged “quite a lot” of transplants, according to a criminal complaint. … Before the judge imposed sentence, prosecutors presented testimony from a doctor and administrator from Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Rosenbaum organized about a dozen kidney transplants there from 1999 to 2002 and the hospital didn’t know the surgeries involved black-market kidneys, they said. … A New York man born in Israel, Elahn Quick, told the judge that he sold his kidney for about $25,000 in 2008 in a transplant organized by Rosenbaum. Becky Cohen, the daughter of the man who bought the kidney, testified that the family paid Rosenbaum $150,000 for the organ. The transplant surgery itself was financed by Cohen’s family insurance. A locksmith, Quick, 31, said he sold his kidney because he needed the cash and thought doing so was a good deed.

The role of the transplant center in Philly is an interesting one—I wonder where they thought the kidneys were coming from. Perhaps some story about relatives?

Both the legal and illegal sides of the transplant industry are embedded in the wider world of health care provision. As Bryan O’Sullivan remarks, the third paragraph of the article, setting up the story, inadvertently does quite a good job of describing US healthcare as a whole:

“It’s a kind of trading in human misery,” Thompson said of black-market kidney sales. Rosenbaum “charged a fee” for kidneys and “used a complicated web of transactions” to finance his business. “He corrupted himself,” the judge said.

“So as you can imagine it was quite difficult for us to build a case against him”, Thompson did not add.