(CBS/AP) TRENTON, N.J. - A New York City 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.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum showed no immediate reaction to the sentence Wednesday in Trenton federal court.
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.
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Rosenbaum admitted wrongdoing Wednesday but said his motives were altruistic. Several people testified that he'd helped saved their lives.
He was arrested in July 2009 in a sweeping federal case that became the largest corruption sting in New Jersey history.
Critics and experts on organ trafficking say many U.S. hospitals do not have vigorous enough procedures for looking into the source of the organs they transplant because such operations are lucrative.
U.S. transplant centers are mostly free to write their own rules for screening donors. The questions they ask vary widely. Some hospitals require long waiting periods; others don't.
Under U.S. law, it is illegal to knowingly buy or sell organs for transplant. The practice is illegal just about everywhere in the world.
But demand for kidneys outstrips the supply, with 4,540 people dying in the U.S. last year while waiting for a kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. As a result, there is a thriving black market for kidneys around the world.