"The crime was … the theft of life, defrauding the wretched of the earth of their spare kidneys, stealing from the poor to supplement the bodies of the well-insured and well advantaged.”
The Rosenbaum Kidney Trafficking Gang
A CounterPunch Exclusive
On October 27, 2011 Levy Itzhak Rosenbaum, 60, a portly, sometimes risqué, “self-described” kidney matchmaker, pleaded guilty in a Trenton, NJ federal courtroom to three counts of acquiring, brokering and transferring for “valuable consideration” organs from the bodies of poor Israelis trafficked into the US to service the transplant needs of New Jersey residents, and an additional count of conspiring to do the same.
The Rosenbaum case was the first prosecution of organs trafficking under NOTA , the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act that established altruism as the principle underlying organs sharing among US citizens, whether from living related or deceased donors. Rosenbaum admitted that his modus operandi was to recruit (through extensive networking) local kidney patients willing to pay $140,000 for whom he would arrange kidney sellers from among ethnic minority and new immigrants , mostly Eastern Europeans, to Israel who were paid $10,000 to undergo nephrectomy (kidney removal) in one of several hospitals from NYC to Baltimore willing to harvest and transplant the foreign kidney into the bodies of Rosenbaum’s clients.
The original complaint against Rosenbaum and his plea bargain concern only the illicit transfer of kidneys. There is no mention of the real crime hidden between the lines, the recruitment and trafficking of poor and minority Israelis into the United States for the sole purpose of procuring their organs. The US is not party to the 2000 UN Palermo Convention on human trafficking that includes human trafficking for organs. The Convention has been applied in successful prosecutions in Brazil, South Africa, India, Moldova and elsewhere to prevent human traffickers, some of whom are surgeons and doctors, from exploiting the bio-available bodies of immigrants, refugees, prisoners, the mentally deficient and others from being harvested while still alive.
Under NOTA the only object of concern is the detachable organ, that precious commodity exchanged for “valuable consideration for use in human 2 transplantation”. The person who is trafficked to provide the fresh commodity that is carried across borders is an invisible non-entity, less significant than the “mules” used in transnational drug trafficking. All that is known about two of Rosenbaum’s victims is their names. “They returned to Israel long before we began our investigation”, a federal prosecutor involved in the Rosenbaum case told me.
Transplant trafficking has been going on for many years in the US, as it has elsewhere in the world. The individual cases in my Organs Watch research files run to the hundreds. Some of the victims of US organs trafficking are bonded servants from Syria and Jordan brought into the US to provide kidneys to their patron royal families from the Gulf States. The Cleveland Clinic has a transplant wing that for many years has catered to these so-called “transplant tourists.” UCLA had its heyday with wealthy Japanese Yakuza crime “family members” who were given priority for liver transplants from the UNOS waiting list, livers that technically belonged to US citizens.
So, Rosenbaum’s network, though extensive, represents only one of many forms of transplant trafficking into and out of the United States.