As the dust still settles from the massive FBI sting operation that brought down three New Jersey mayors, rabbis from Brooklyn and saw a total of 44 suspects arrested, more details are emerging about the one charge among the fray that really turned heads this week—organ trafficking.
Levy Rosenbaum of Borough Park was arrested when he tried to broker a deal to an undercover agent selling a kidney for $160,000 after purchasing it from a donor for $10,000. Apparently Rosenbaum was known as the go-to guy for organs, running a ring where he would entice donors over from Israel in order to undergo surgery to remove a kidney in a local hospital. John Davis, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation, said following Rosenbaum's arrest, "The allegations about an organ trafficking ring in the United States are appalling."
A UC Berekeley professor who is an expert in organ trafficking told the AP that Rosenbaum was "the top man" in the US. He also reportedly carried around a gun and was known for alluding to it if donors began to get cold feet. As for his high price tag, WABC 7 says Rosenbaum told the undercover agent, "Let me explain to you one thing. It's illegal to buy or sell organs, so you cannot buy it. What you do is, you're giving a compensation for the time...One of the reasons it's so expensive is because you have to shmear all the time." By "shmear," Rosenbaum meant paying people to look the other way.
While Rosenbaum's family wanted nothing to do with the media, others in the Borough Park area spoke to reporters. One neighbor defended Rosenbaum, saying he knew someone whose life was saved by a kidney he supplied and even went so far as to call him "a hero." At the NY Times' Freakonomics blog, where the topic of legalizing the sale of organs has been frequently discussed, Stephen Dubner questioned the logic of the current ban in cases like this where "poor people are already being excluded from getting organs (because there’s a scarcity of donated organs) and being lured into selling them."