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Cash and connections can buy you a kidney

NEW YORK — For most of the thousands of Americans who need a new kidney, there are only two ways to go: persuade a friend or relative to donate, or get on the transplant waiting list.

Yet some New Yorkers with the right connections and a pile of cash appear to have explored a third option.

"I have met many, many people who have told me in confidence that they have bought a kidney. Prominent New Yorkers. And it happens right here in America," said Robert Berman, founder and director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society.

Berman leads an organization that encourages Jews to become organ donors the legal way — without payment — but said he is often approached by people who need a kidney badly enough to consider paying for one.

Sometimes they even ask for his help finding a broker — a middleman who will arrange a transplant with a paid donor.

Experts and law enforcement authorities say a handful of these organ "matchmakers" based in Israel have recruited hundreds, maybe thousands, of people to voluntarily sell their kidneys to wealthy patients, including some Americans.

Much of their work has been done overseas, at hospitals in places like South Africa, Turkey and the Philippines, but experts say these brokers have arranged transplants in the U.S., too.

One of those syndicates plays a role in the tale told by Nick Rosen, a man who lives in Israel and made a video about donating a kidney to a Long Island man in 2005.

Rosen told The Associated Press he was paid $20,000 for the transplant in a sale handled by an organ broker in Israel who recruited him through a newspaper ad.

He said the middleman arranged for a series of tests to confirm his kidney was a match, then had him fly to the U.S. for an operation at a hospital in New York City. He videotaped some of his encounters with brokers, doctors and the man getting the kidney.

Paying for a kidney is illegal in the U.S., and Berman said when people ask him for help connecting with an organ broker, he always refuses. However, he supports legalizing certain financial incentives for organ donors and said he can't condemn the brokers for work that saves lives.

Federal prosecutors said Rosenbaum was caught in an FBI sting offering to arrange a kidney donation for $160,000. This one also allegedly involved a donor from Israel coming to the U.S. for a transplant.