The Organ Business: Scandals Touch U.S., Kosovo

If you just skimmed the article, it was easy to miss. Two years ago, the FBI busted dozens of New Jersey officials in “Operation Bid Rig.” Mayors, rabbis, and pillars of the community had been caught in dirty dealing, accused of corruption, money laundering, and organ sales. That’s right: selling human organs.

It was a small part of a big regional story. But that small mention opens a window into a world of money and lies that boggles the imagination. People need organs—the demand is highest for kidneys—and they’re not willing to wait. They want action now, and they’re willing to pay. The prospect of easy money tempts the poor and desperate, and a market is born.

The problem isn’t isolated to one bust from two years ago. Late last year, European Union officials charged seven people with organ trafficking in a Kosovo-based operation. In that case, nearly two dozen foreigners living in “extreme poverty or acute financial distress” were “recruited with the false promises of payments,” said European Union prosecutor Jonathan Ratel. They were told that they would receive up to $20,000 for their organs.

In many cases, they received nothing. But their organs were still sold—sometimes for as much as $200,000—to wealthy patients from the United States, Israel, and other countries. The operations were done in medical facilities in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Officials suspect that this trafficking ring was only part of a larger criminal operation, perhaps based in Israel.

In the 2009 New Jersey case, Brooklyn’s Levy Izhak Rosenbaum was accused of setting up organ sales. He told sources that he had been in the business for a decade. “His business was to entice vulnerable people to give up a kidney for $10,000, which he would turn around and sell for $160,000,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra.

Others involved in the wide-ranging corruption probe included Peter Cammarano, the mayor of Hoboken, N.J., as well as the mayors of Secaucus and Ridgefield. Several high-profile area rabbis were also accused of running a money-laundering ring through their charities.

What do you think? Should law enforcement officials spend time and effort going after people who set up organ donations for a price? Or are these brokers merely filling a demand? Let us know in the comments below.

In part two of this series, we’ll look more closely into why and how people decide to sell their organs.




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