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Online organ donor broker charged with wire fraud
- — 20 March, 2009 07:53
The operator of Liver4you.org is facing wire fraud charges for an alleged scheme to use the Web site to entice people needing organ transplants to wire tens of thousands of dollars to the Philippines in exchange for nonexistent surgeries, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Jerome Howard Feldman appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court for Guam after his Feb. 2 arrest in Manila on immigration violations. Feldman was indicted on Feb. 11 by a grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Feldman will be transported to Syracuse, New York, to face the wire fraud charges.
Feldman faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to US$250,000 on the wire fraud charges. Also pending against Feldman are federal health care fraud charges in Florida from 1999, and racketeering, money laundering and stolen property charges filed in Florida in 2001.
The indictment accuses Feldman of posing as a doctor in the Philippines who was arranging organ transplants. Feldman's alleged Web site, Liver4you.org, remained in operation as of Thursday afternoon. An e-mail seeking comment about the case, sent to an address listed at the site, received no response Thursday.
An investigation of Feldman began last June, when a woman filed a complaint with the DeWitt, New York, Police Department. The woman, after finding Liver4you.org, exchanged e-mail messages with a Dr. Mitch Michaelson, who suggested her husband should come to the Philippines for a liver transplant.
The couple wired $70,000 to an account in the name of Alberto Gomez at a bank in DeWitt, and Michaelson promised the money would cover all the expenses for the transplant, the DOJ said.
In July, the husband died of liver failure at a Philippines hospital without receiving a transplant.
Doctors treating the husband told his wife that nobody at the hospital had ever heard of Dr. Mitch Michaelson. After the husband's death, Michaelson stopped all communication with the wife, the DOJ said.
The widow had to pay an additional $20,000 of hospital fees in the Philippines, the DOJ said.
An investigation by the DeWitt Police Department, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Police found other victims of the same transplant scheme. About $400,000 was wired to the Gomez account in DeWitt, the DOJ said.
Law enforcement authorities alleged that Michaelson and Gomez were aliases of Feldman's, who was living in Manila under the name Michael Adams.