Lawyers for a man who pleaded guilty Thursday in the first ever federal conviction for illegal organ trafficking say he was performing life-saving services for severely ill people.
Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, from New York, admitted in a Trenton federal court to brokering three illegal kidney transplants for desperate New Jersey-based customers in exchange for payments of $120,000 or more.
He also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count for brokering an illegal kidney sale.
But anthropologist and organ trade expert Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who described Israel as a 'pariah' in the organ transplant world, has said in the past that many of the donors were desperately poor immigrants from eastern European countries such as Moldova, Romania and Russia.
They say the recipients are leading healthy lives thanks to Rosenbaum.
The 60-year-old was arrested two years ago following a huge investigation into corruption in New Jersey.
The probe led to 46 arrests, including several rabbis, the New York Daily News reports.
Rosenbaum faces a maximum five-year prison sentence on each count, plus a fine of up to $250,000. He also agreed to forfeit $420,000 in property that came from the kidney sales.
Under 1984 federal law, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly buy or sell organs for transplant.