NEWARK, N.J., Oct 28 (Reuters) - A Brooklyn man pleaded guilty on Thursday to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for at least $120,000 each, and to conspiring to arrange another sale, making him the first person ever convicted under the federal statute outlawing black-market organ sales, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 60, was one of 46 people arrested in 2009 in a massive federal corruption probe, dubbed "Operation Bid Rig," a 10-year investigation that ensnared dozens of politicians, officials and community and religious leaders. The operation uncovered political corruption, money laundering and the organ sales, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
Rosenbaum, an Israeli citizen who worked in real estate, appeared Thursday before U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson in Trenton federal court and pleaded guilty to three counts of brokering three organ transplants for profit and one count of conspiracy to do the same, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a release.
From January 2006 to February 2009, Fishman said, Rosenbaum conspired to obtain kidneys from paid donors. In exchange, he received payments of $120,000, $150,000 and $140,000 from three recipients of the organs.
"Rosenbaum admitted he was not new to the human kidney business when he was caught brokering what he thought was a black-market deal," Fishman said. "A black market in human organs is not only a grave threat to public health, it reserves lifesaving treatment for those who can best afford it at the expense of those who cannot."
In a statement, Rosenbaum's lawyers said the recipients were New Jersey residents who had been on official transplant waiting lists. They sought Rosenbaum's assistance, and he did not solicit them, the statement said.
'DOING THIS A LONG TIME'
Rosenbaum's business was exposed with the assistance of Solomon Dwek, a cooperating criminal defendant who helped prosecutors develop charges against defendants in the Operation Bid Rig case.
An undercover FBI agent posed as an employee of Dwek and said her uncle needed a transplant. When they first met Rosenbaum in mid-February 2008, he told them that it was illegal to buy and sell organs, but that he had been "doing this a long time." Rosenbaum explained that he would help the recipient and the donor concoct a fake story to make it appear the transplant was from a genuine donation, Fishman said. Rosenbaum also said he would be in charge of "babysitting" the donor after the person arrived from overseas.
During a July 2009 meeting, Rosenbaum told the agent that he had been arranging kidney transplants for 10 years, including one two weeks earlier.
At Thursday's plea, Rosenbaum admitted that he typically located individuals in Israel who were willing to be paid for giving up their kidneys, and that he would be responsible for arranging the donors' travel to the United States as well as their accommodations before and after surgery. Rosenbaum also admitted that he arranged for blood samples, and said he helped each paid donor and recipient fabricate stories to fool hospital employees.
Rosenbaum faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He also must forfeit $420,000 -- the money he received for the three transplants and a $10,000 downpayment from Dwek.
He remains free on bail and under house arrest pending sentencing, which is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2012.
The case is U.S. v. Rosenbaum, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey. The criminal case number has not yet been assigned.
For Rosenbaum: Ronald Kleinberg and Richard Finkel of Meissner, Kleinberg & Finkel
For the government: Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren
(Reporting by Jennifer Golson)
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