By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Israeli man who pleaded guilty to illegally brokering kidney transplants for profit in the United States, the first such conviction under federal law, was sentenced on Wednesday to 2-1/2 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, a 61-year old Israeli citizen who lived in Brooklyn, pleaded guilty last October to charges that he brokered kidney transplants between paid donors and recipients on three occasions.
Prosecutors said Rosenbaum charged between $120,000 and $150,000 to help three New Jersey residents find kidneys for transplant between 2006 and 2009.
He also pleaded to a count of conspiracy to broker a fourth kidney transaction following a sting operation leading to his arrest involving an undercover FBI agent who pretended to have a sick uncle.
Prosecutors said Rosenbaum typically found donors in Israel through newspaper advertisements who were willing to give up a kidney in exchange for payment, and that he helped arrange the necessary blood tests to ensure a match and for the donors' travel to the United States.
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.
At least one relative of a kidney recipient spoke in defense of Rosenbaum at the hearing at the U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey, on Wednesday, saying he was a hero who helped save her father's life, local media reported.
But at least 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.
Paul J. Fishman, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney, whose office prosecuted the case, said Rosenbaum was motivated by profit, not the saving of lives.
"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," Fishman said in a statement following the sentencing by Judge Anne E. Thompson.
"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."
Rosenbaum's lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment. Rosenbaum had been facing up to five years in prison for each of the four counts to which he pleaded guilty, prosecutors said.
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 October 12. As he is not a U.S. citizen, immigration authorities will decide whether to attempt to deport him once he has finished his sentence.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston)