(CHICAGO 10/28/2011) — An Israeli-American man pleaded guilty in US District Court in New Jersey Thursday to illegally selling human kidneys for huge profits. Levi Izhak Rosenbaum is the first person ever convicted in the United States for engaging in organ trafficking, according to published reports.
Prosecutors alleged Rosenbaum charged Americans $160,000 or more for kidneys he obtained by paying “vulnerable Israelis” $10,000 to give up the organ. Rosenbaum pleaded guilty to three counts of organ trafficking. He also agreed to forfeit the $420,000 he got for the illegal kidneys.
In court records obtained by AMP, Rosenbaum said he’d been “doing this a long time.” According to the criminal complaint, an undercover FBI agent approached Rosenbaum and asked about the procedure for purchasing a kidney for a sick uncle. Rosenbaum said a vial of the patient’s blood would be sent to Israel to find a matching prospective donor. When the informant balked at the asking price of $150,000, Rosenbaum answered, “There are people over there hunting … one of the reasons it’s so expensive is because you have to schmear (meaning pay various individuals for their assistance) all the time.”
Rosenbaum was apprehended in July 2009 in a New Jersey statewide sweep that arrested 44 individuals – included 5 rabbis, the mayors of three large cities, and other state officials – on charges of public corruption and international money-laundering. Rosenbaum was the only one charged with organ trafficking. His arrest came just a few weeks before Sweden’s largest daily newspaper – the Aftonbladet – ran a story by Daniel Boström that alleged Israeli Occupation Forces kidnapped and killed young Palestinian men then culled their organs for the black market.
The article created an uproar with charges of anti-Semitism and “Blood Libel” against the newspaper. However, in December 2009, the former head of the Israeli Ministry of Health testified before the Knesset to answer questions that arose after a pathologist admitted he harvested organs from Palestinians and others without family consent.
In a report on Israeli Channel 2, pathologist Dr. Yehuda Hiss said he harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of dead Palestinians, Israeli soldiers and foreign workers without permission in the 1990s. When doctors feared their actions would be discovered, they would cover up the evidence, oftentimes gluing shut eyes to hide the missing corneas, he said.
That admission is eerily similar to what the Swedish reporter Boström said he saw in 1992 on the body of the deceased Bilal Ahmed Ghanim. Israeli soldiers shot and killed the 19-year-old Ghanim then took his body away. It was returned five days later at night and in a “shroud of secrecy,” writes Boström. He took pictures of Ghanim’s torso, which had been cut from the groin to his chin and then sewn up.
After Boström’s article was published, he received numerous death threats, the Aftonbladet reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu tried to pressure the Swedish government to condemn the newspaper, but it refused to interfere with the freedom of the press. The newspaper stood by the story.
Boström later said he did not know if the family’s claims their son’s organs had been removed were true but he wrote the story to raise the issue of Israel’s involvement in organ trafficking.
While many question the veracity of Boström’s article, at least one expert in international organ trafficking raised concerns about Israel’s involvement in the black market trade for years. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, the founder of Organs Watch, which documents cases of international organ trafficking, told reporters in 2009 she gave Rosenbaum’s name to the FBI “years ago.”
“’Rosenbaum was part of an extensive underground transplant trafficking network centered in Israel that is responsible for buying and selling thousands of kidneys around the world each year,’ said Scheper-Hughes, a professor of medical anthropology at Berkeley,” told the North Jersey News in July 2009.
Rosenbaum faces 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced on Feb. 2, 2012.