Seconds before the anesthesia kicked in at the start of a 2008 surgery in a Minnesota hospital, Elahn Quick said he was no longer certain he wanted to sell his kidney. By then, it was too late.
Before I finished the conversation, I was gone, Quick testified Wednesday in federal court in Trenton, N.J.
In the first criminal organ-trafficking case in the United States, Quick took the witness stand at the sentencing of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, a Brooklyn man who pleaded guilty to brokering black market sales of human kidneys to three Americans.
After hearing Quicks account of how Rosenbaum paid him $25,000 for a kidney, U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson sentenced Rosenbaum to 2 1/2 years in prison.
Its a kind of trading in human misery, Thompson said of the black-market kidney trade. Rosenbaum charged a fee for kidneys while using a complicated web of transactions to finance his trade, she said. He corrupted himself.
The sentencing marks the final chapter in a first-of-its-kind case that culminated with Rosenbaums arrest in July 2009.
Rosenbaum, an Israeli immigrant, pleaded guilty last year to violating a 1984 U.S. law banning the sale of human organs. He admitted that he charged sick Americans as much as $160,000 for a kidney. Prosecutors said hed been selling kidneys since 1999.
Defense lawyers and a former Rosenbaum client who bought a kidney told the judge that he was an angel who helped save the lives of people close to death from kidney disease. They said he earned little from his decade-long kidney scheme.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren said in court that Rosenbaum probably earned hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit while exploiting the poor whose desperate need for cash forced them to sell their kidneys.
A locksmith who was born in Israel and had U.S. citizenship, Quick, 31, testified that he responded to an advertisement for donors in a Hebrew-language New York newspaper.
Quick was directed to meet a Brooklyn man named Ido, who he said was Rosenbaums assistant. Ido asked Quick about his blood type and whether he was certain he wanted to go through with the surgery. Quick said he was never warned of the risks.
Ido later introduced Quick to Rosenbaum, who told Quick to tell hospital administrators that he had befriended the recipients son-in-law and had decided to donate a kidney after learning of their plight. Rosenbaum also introduced Quick to the kidney buyer.
The surgery took place at University Hospital in Minneapolis, Quick testified. In a later interview, he said it was at the hospital affiliated with the University of Minnesota.
Prosecutors dont claim the hospital knew of the black-market sale. Ryan Davenport, a spokesman for the University of Minnesota Medical Center, didnt have an immediate comment on Quicks testimony.
Becky Cohen, the daughter of the man who bought Quicks kidney, testified that the family paid Rosenbaum $150,000 for the organ. The surgery itself was financed by family insurance.
Cohen, called to testify by prosecutors, said Rosenbaum was a hero who saved her fathers life. Hed been waiting on a kidney transplant list for five years and was undergoing dialysis before buying the organ, she said.
Prosecutors also presented testimony from a doctor and administrator from Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Rosenbaum organized about a dozen kidney transplants there from 1999 to 2002.
Rosenbaum faced as many as 20 years in prison on counts of conspiracy and organ trafficking. He agreed to forfeit $420,000 and may be deported to Israel after serving his sentence.
Thompson, the judge, cited what she said were incredible stories of Rosenbaums charity that were detailed in numerous letters submitted to her by his supporters, many of whom filled the courtroom.
But the woeful inadequacy of the existing transplant system, which relies on altruistic kidney donors, didnt excuse Rosenbaums crimes, she said.
This is a difficult case, Thompson said.