Update - Audio of an extensive interview with the whistleblower who exposed this organ smuggling ring is now posted at the bottom of this article.
Anthropologist's 'Dick Tracy moment' plays role in arrest of suspected kidney trafficker
Michael Daly • NY Daily News
The Brooklyn man arrested Thursday for dealing in black-market kidneys was identified to the FBI seven years ago as a major figure in a global human organ ring.
Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum's name, address and even phone number were passed to an FBI agent in a meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan by a prominent anthropologist who has been studying and documenting organ trafficking for more than a decade.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California, Berkeley, was and is very clear as to Rosenbaum's role in the ring.
"He is the main U.S. broker for an international trafficking network," she said.
Her sources include a man who started working with Rosenbaum imagining he was helping people in desperate need. The man then began to see the donors, or to be more accurate, sellers, who were flown in from impoverished countries such as Moldova.
"He said it was awful. These people would be brought in and they didn't even know what they were supposed to be doing and they would want to go home and they would cry," Scheper-Hughes said.
The man called Rosenbaum "a thug" who would pull out a pistol he was apparently licensed to carry and tell the sellers, "You're here. A deal is a deal. Now, you'll give us a kidney or you'll never go home.'"
Scheper-Hughes felt she had to stop Rosenbaum. She met with the FBI.
"I always thought of it as my Dick Tracy moment," she said Thursday.
She waited and waited for something to be done. The FBI may have been following the lead of the State Department, which dismissed organ trafficking as "urban legend."
"It would be impossible to conceal a clandestine organ trafficking ring," a 2004 State Department report stated.
Scheper-Hughes had better luck in Brazil and in South Africa, where law enforcement corroborated her findings and acted decisively.
But the ring kept operating elsewhere. Scheper-Hughes visited villages in Moldova where, "20% of the men were siphoned off to be kidney sellers in this same scheme."
Back in Brooklyn, Rosenbaum stayed busy. He was contacted by an FBI informant who introduced Rosenbaum to an undercover agent who supposedly wanted to buy a kidney for her uncle.
"I'm doing this a long time," Rosenbaum was recorded saying.
The undercover asked how many organs he had sold.
"Quite a lot," he answered.
On Wednesday, the FBI called Scheper-Hughes, who is putting her findings into the upcoming, "A World Cut in Two, The Global Traffic in Humans for Organs."
"Why are you calling me now?" she asked.
Thursday, seven years after her Dick Tracy moment with the FBI at the Roosevelt Hotel, Rosenbaum was finally arrested.
[Hat Tip: Yankel.]
Update 7-24-09 2-35 pm CDT – Here is the anthropologist telling her story to Brain Lehrer this morning on NPR. She says the head of the organ trafficking ring is an Israeli, Ilan Perry. The ring operates in Eastern Europe, South America, South Africa, the United State and, of course, Israel.
She also makes the point I've made many times before – haredi attitudes toward organ donation limit the number of organs available to save lives, creating a shortage in Israel that makes trafficker's businesses especially profitable.
The point made by a caller at the end about Jews allowing organ donations, and the followup to that point by the anthropologist are both incorrect. There are dozens of leading haredi rabbis who oppose organ donation.
For a brief overview of the problem of haredi attitudes to organ donation, please read, "How Jewish Law Killed Yossie Raichik."
[Hat Tip: Michael P.]