Jewish kidney brokers sell organs from poorest nations on black market

Rabbi Levy Rosenbaum told the undercover agent he has been an organ broker for 10 years.

The international black market for kidneys — preying on the desperate and run by a shadowy network of greedy organ brokers — is flourishing, a Daily News probe found.

The arrest of a Brooklyn man Thursday on organ trafficking charges sheds a new spotlight on an underground business where wretchedly poor foreigners — particularly in India — are paid $2,000 to $10,000 for kidneys.

Those kidneys are ultimately sold for as much as $180,000 to transplant recipients who otherwise could die.

More than 80,000 Americans were waiting for kidney transplants as of last week, the United Network for Organ Sharing said.

The wait for a suitable legitimate donor is as long as three years, which drives many to the underground market, experts said.

Lungs for transplant are also available on the black market, but the vast majority of the organs in play are kidneys, they said.

The majority of the black market kidneys are transplanted in hospitals and clinics overseas, but some have been done in New York, apparently without the knowledge of hospital officials, medical ethicists and the leading expert in the black market say.

“In India, China, Africa and Latin America the poor are selling their kidneys to wealthy buyers through an underground set of networks,” said Dr. Steven Post, professor of Bioethics at Stony Brook University.

Transplant recipients generally travel to those countries for their operations, he said.

“The donors make enough money to buy a house or put their kids through college and the doctors do the transplants overseas, in India for example, at perfectly legitimate hospitals, where nobody cares about the buying and selling of organs,” he said.

A previous News investigation into organ trafficking disclosed that one link in the underground network was smuggling live donors into the United States from Moldovia, one of the poorest countries in the former Soviet Union.

The donors entered the United States — generally at Kennedy Airport — on false student or tourist visas and were whisked to hospitals, where their organs were removed and given to recipients, government sources said.

The man arrested Thursday — part of a massive FBI probe of money laundering and bribery that brought down 44 people, including prominent New Jersey politicians — is also accused of arranging for organ transplants inside the United States.

“The price with what we are asking here is $150,000,” Levy Izhak Rosenbaum told an undercover federal agent, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint.
Rosenbaum was referring to the base price for a black market kidney for the agent’s fictitious uncle.

Rosenbaum told the undercover agent he has been an organ broker for 10 years and that his latest deal with a successful transplant in the United States had taken place two weeks earlier.

The cost, later upped to $160,000, would cover finding a suitable kidney donor in Israel, including blood samples to insure a match, payment to the donor, and travel expenses to get the donor to the U.S.

A down payment was made, but there were no discussions as to the hospital where the transplant would take place, and Rosenbaum was arrested before things went further.

Rosenbaum was a middleman in a “kidney mafia” that includes doctors in Israel, a worldwide network of organ hunters, and brokers who match patients and donors with doctors who do the transplants, said Nancy Schepper-Hughes, founder of Organ Watch, which investigates trafficking.

She said the network is headed by criminal businessmen — “think of them as the Madoffs of kidney scams” — who use money raised through bogus charities to pay doctors to perform the transplants.

Rosenbaum worked through doctors at a major medical center outside Tel Aviv, whose patients were given a choice of where to have the operation, said Schepper-Hughes, who said she has been investigating his operation for 10 years.

She said illicit transplants are relatively rare in the U.S. but that Rosenbaum “was the man to go to in New York.”

One Israeli who received a kidney transplant through Rosenbaum described the rabbi to Schepper-Hughes as “very Orthodox but jolly and very off-color. He loved to tell dirty jokes.”

She said the patient told her Rosenbaum was unable to arrange a transplant for him at a New York Hospital but set one up at a Philadelphia hospital.

Schepper-Hughes described the underground organ network as a pyramid with at least three countries involved in every transaction.

“The illegal enterprise is centered in Israel,” she said. “Donors are found in poor countries like Moldovia, Romania, China, all over. Operations are conducted in several countries. For a long time the main place was Turkey.”

For example, last year, in Gurgaon, India, local authorities said a ring of four doctors and five nurses working at three local hospitals had performed more than 400 kidney transplants over the previous nine years.

Impoverished donors were recruited for as little as $1,000 for a kidney, said Mohinder Lal, a Gurgaon cop investigating the racket.

Typically, brokers like Rosenbaum would deal with hospital transplant coordinators, usually nurses, who would make all the arrangements.

“Some of these coordinators I suspect are corrupt, others were simply trying to do good for desperate people,” Schepper-Hughes said.
Archived July 25, 2009
The cast of the 44 arrested featured Hoboken, New Jersey, Mayor Peter Cammarano, who took office three weeks ago in the industrial city visible across the Hudson River from New York.Others accused were mayors of nearby Secaucus and Ridgefield, state Assemblymen, a deputy mayor, city council members, housing, planning and zoning officials, building inspectors and political candidates.

“New Jersey’s corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation,” said Ed Kahrer, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s white collar crime and public corruption program in New Jersey, who has worked on the investigation since it began in July 1999.

“It has become ingrained in New Jersey’s political culture,” he said, calling corruption “a cancer.”

Central to the investigation was an informant who was charged with bank fraud in 2006 and posed undercover as a real estate developer and owner of a tile business who paid off officials to win project approval and public contracts in northern New Jersey, according to documents in the case.

The public officials stand accused of taking bribes for pledging their help getting permits and projects prioritized and approved or steering contracts to the witness.

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