Israeli Chief Rabbi of Syrian Jews Pleads Guilty to Illegal Human Organ Trafficking ‘Black Market’
July 14, 2012 (TSR) – A New York-based Israeli is sentenced to prison for buying kidneys from vulnerable Palestinians (and people) in the Occupied Territories and selling them to patients in the US, while making USD millions in the process.
Israeli Jewish rabbi, Levy Izhak (Isaac) Rosenbaum, who resides in Brooklyn, was sentenced to 30 months in jail on Wednesday by US District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton, New Jersey for organ trafficking.
“It’s a kind of trading in human misery,” Thompson said, adding that Rosenbaum “charged a fee” for kidneys and “used a complicated web of transactions” to finance his business.
The justice also sentenced Rosenbaum to three years of supervised release and a fine of USD 5,000. She also ordered him to forfeit USD 420,000 that he had earned from the black-market kidney sales.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, a 61-year old Israeli citizen who lived in Brooklyn who pleaded guilty last October to charges that he brokered kidney transplants between paid donors and recipients, was sentenced to 2 and 1/2 years in prison. (Photo Credit: AP)
US Attorney Paul J. Fishman, whose office prosecuted the case, said Rosenbaum was the first person to be convicted under the federal statute involving the black-market sales of kidneys from paid donors.
“A black market, where the moneyed sick can buy replacement parts from the less fortunate, is not only grim, it apportions lifesaving treatments unfairly, insults donor dignity, and violates the law,” he said in a statement following the sentencing.
“Prison is an appropriate punishment for Levy Rosenbaum’s illegal capitalization on others’ desperation. Although, Rosenbaum painted himself as a benevolent kidney matchmaker, the criminal profits went right into his pocket,” Fishman added.
In October, Rosenbaum was tried for trafficking kidneys between December 2006 and February 2009. Prosecutors had said he charged New Jersey recipients between USD 120,000 and 160,000 to arrange purchases on their behalf during the period.
Earlier Wednesday, a doctor with Albert Einstein Medical Center testified that Rosenbaum brought as many as 15 pairs of donors and recipients to the hospital for transplants from 1999 to 2002.
The physician, Radi Zaki, and Beth Duffy, the vice president of health care services at Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, testified separately that Rosenbaum always presented himself as a legitimate facilitator of donor matches for Israeli patients and provided all the correct paperwork for the donor matches.
Prosecutors allege Rosenbaum would buy organs from vulnerable people in Israel for as little as $10,000 and sell them to desperate patients for more than $100,000.
The transplants took place at top U.S. hospitals, including at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.
As part of his service, he also helped donors and recipients invent a cover story to trick hospital staff into thinking the donation was a purely altruistic exchange between friends or relatives, which is legal, rather than an illegal business deal, according to prosecutors.
One of the donors, who agreed to cooperate with the government’s case in exchange for immunity from prosecution, described to the court that he felt exploited by Rosenbaum.
Elahn Quick, who agreed to have his kidney removed for $25,000, said he was having second thoughts as he lay on the hospital bed and raised it with his “caretaker,” identified as a Rosenbaum associate named Ido. Quick described how the caretaker reassured him but before anything could be done to cancel or delay the surgery, he slipped out of consciousness.
Anthropologist and organ trade expert Nancy Scheper-Hughes claimed that she had informed the FBI that Rosenbaum was “a major figure” in international organ smuggling 7 years ago, and that many of Rosenbaum’s donors had come from Eastern Europe. She also heard reports that Rosenbaum held donors at gunpoint to ensure they donated their organs.
The 61-year-old pleaded guilty to three counts of kidney trafficking. He also pleaded to one count of conspiracy to arrangement for another transplant.
Rosenbaum was arrested in July 2009 after trying to set up a kidney sale to an undercover FBI agent, who had pretended to have a sick uncle.
Rosenbaum had earlier agreed to forfeit the $420,000 he had made in the kidney brokering cases for which he was convicted. He is due to begin his sentence on Oct. 12. As he is not a US citizen, immigration authorities will decide whether to attempt to deport him once he has finished his sentence.
New Jersey’s OPERATION BID RIG
Operation Bid Rig is an ongoing, long-term investigation into political corruption in New Jersey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey since 2002. The investigation has resulted in the indictments of more than 60 public officials and politically connected individuals since its inception. In July 2009, sting operations resulted in the arrest of 44 people in New Jersey and New York, including 29 public servants and political operatives, and five orthodox rabbis from the Syrian Jewish community. A number of high-level New Jersey elected officials were arrested in the operation, including Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Ridgefield Mayor Anthony R. Suarez, former Jersey City Housing Authority Commissioner and Chairwoman Lori Serrano, Jersey City Housing Authority Commissioner Edward Cheatam, Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt, former Assemblyman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Louis Manzo, and political operatives Joseph Cardwell and Jack Shaw.
Rosenbaum was among those 44 elected officials and Jewish rabbis in New Jersey who have been arrested in a huge anti-corruption sweep across the state in 2009.
Charges of extortion, bribery, money laundering and human organ trafficking were stunning even for a state long notorious for official corruption and organised crime.
Television footage showed FBI and tax agents bringing a stream of handcuffed suspects, including rabbis wearing traditional Orthodox Jewish garb, into custody in the city of Newark. Other suspects were shown being put onto a bus.
The sweep was believed to be one of the biggest such actions ever in a state long associated with corruption, and famous as the setting of the hit Mafia television drama the “Sopranos.”
The money laundering ring allegedly stretched from New Jersey and New York to Israel and Switzerland, while politicians easily exploited loopholes in state law to disguise bribes as campaign contributions.
Although New Jersey is more famous for a history of Italian Mafia families, it was Jewish clergy who allegedly played a central role in the crime network.
Authorities raided several synagogues and among those arrested was the chief rabbi of Syrian Jews in the United States, including Rosenbaum who has been peddling kidneys for a decade.
Under 1984 federal law, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly buy or sell organs for transplant. The practice is illegal just about everywhere else in the world, too.
However, critics and experts on organ trafficking say many U.S. hospitals do not have vigorous enough procedures for looking into the source of the organs they transplant because such operations are lucrative.
Despite guidelines from various groups and Medicare, U.S. transplant centers are mostly free to write their own rules for screening donors to make sure they are not selling their organs. The questions they ask vary widely. Some hospitals require long waiting periods to weed out shady donors; others don’t.
A month before Rosenbaum’s arrest, a report published in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet accused Israeli troopers of kidnapping Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip for their organs.
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