By Samantha Henry
A Brooklyn man has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in a case prosecutors say is the first ever federal conviction for illegally selling human kidneys for profit.
The 61-year-old Brooklyn resident pleaded guilty last October to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for New Jersey-based customers in exchange for payments of $120,000 or more.
Prosecutors allege Rosenbaum made millions by exploiting desperate recipients and paying donors a paltry sum.
Rosenbaum admitted wrongdoing yesterday but said his motives were altruistic. Several people testified that he'd helped saved their lives.
Prosecutors said Rosenbaum would buy organs from vulnerable people in Israel for $10,000 and sell them to desperate patients. He was arrested in July 2009 in a sweeping federal case that became the largest corruption sting in New Jersey history.
The federal courtroom in Trenton was packed to standing room capacity and spilled into the jury box with supporters from Rosenbaum's Orthodox Jewish community. Many said they had traveled from the Borough Park section of Brooklyn.
Rosenbaum lawyer Ronald Kleinberg argued that his client had admitted engaging in the sale of kidneys but did so only to save lives. Several of his supporters said he was a revered member of their Orthodox community.
"There are no victims here," said Rachel Warshower, who traveled from Brooklyn to support Rosenbaum, whom she called a family friend. "The donors are happy and the recipients are happy; Izhak Rosenbaum is not the monster the media has made him out to be."
Rosenbaum was one of more than 40 people arrested, including politicians and rabbis in New Jersey and Brooklyn, and was not a rabbi himself. The image of rabbis illegally selling kidneys garnered international headlines and made its way into the routines of late-night comedians for weeks afterward.
Rosenbaum was arrested after he tried to set up a kidney sale to a man posing as a crooked businessman but who actually was government informant Solomon Dwek, a disgraced real estate speculator facing prison time for a $50 million bank fraud.
Rosenbaum testified yesterday that he had spent the three years since his arrest thinking about what he had done.
"It was wrong, but I thought the cause was good," he said. "I can assure this court I will never do this again."
Earlier yesterday, a doctor with Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia 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.
When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren how he felt upon learning that Rosenbaum had been profiting from the sale of the organs, Zaki said he was opposed to illegal organ sales.
"It can become predatorial," Zaki said. "It's a slippery slope."