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Nephrologica, a Long Island company, falsely claimed to be able to help seriously ill people find living kidney donors for a fee, and its founder, owner, and chief executive officer, Michael T. Goldstein, offered financial rewards to potential kidney donors in violation of state and federal law, according to New York prosecutors.
Now, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, Goldstein has agreed to shut down the company and to provide complete refunds to victims of his scam.
“There are more than 8,000 people waiting for kidney donors in New York State, and those patients and their loved ones must not be preyed upon in this manner,” according to Schneiderman. “This scam artist has now been stopped, and my office will continue to seek to ensure that businesses that provide services to people with serious diseases conduct themselves with transparency and integrity.”
New York State and federal law prohibit paying a donor for a human organ. People in need of kidney transplants can register with the national waiting list managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), can find donors via legitimate donor-matching organizations, or can seek out donors on their own. The average waiting time for a kidney can be up to five years. Those interested in donating their organs can register with the Donate Life Registry, which is managed by the New York State Department of Health. While no one may be paid for donating, donors may, by law, obtain reimbursement for their related expenses, including travel, lodging, and lost wages. In addition, New York law prohibits false advertising and deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business.
According to Schneiderman, Nephrologica, which also did business as the World Kidney Network, charged unlawful fees in exchange for sham assistance in locating living kidney donors. Nephrologica’s website boasted that it provided “the quickest, most efficient process to locate a living compatible donor (as little as two weeks in extreme cases),” “Healthy Living Compatible Donors,” and pre- and post-operative assistance. In fact, Schneiderman asserted, it provided none of these services. The company posted bogus ads and fake testimonials on Internet sites, luring consumers desperate to help their loved ones find a kidney, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Schneiderman’s Health Care Bureau launched an investigation into the company when a consumer called the bureau hotline and complained that he had paid $6,000 to Nephrologica for help locating a living donor for his mother, who was suffering from kidney disease, and that the company refused to give him a refund after months of failing to provide help. The out-of-state complainant first posted a message on an Internet bulletin board in July 2011 seeking help finding a kidney donor. Schneiderman said that the investigation showed that Goldstein, using a fake name, had replied to the man’s post by email and falsely had claimed that Nephrologica had been able to obtain a kidney donor for another client in just seven months, that it had coordinated and or assisted in the coordination of more than 2,000 transplants, that the transplant donors were living donors from more than 20 countries, and that Nephrologica had been successful with 100 percent of the people who had come for help in finding a compatible donor. According to Schneiderman, the investigation found that Nephrologica had used fake references to dupe consumers, and that all the claims were fake.
The Attorney General said that his office’s investigation also revealed that, from 2009 to 2013, Nephrologica posted solicitations on various Internet sites seeking living kidney donors, promising that the company would cover all travel expenses and up to $10,000 in “missed work earnings.” Offers of compensation for an organ violate the law, according to Schneiderman. Individuals from around the country and the world responded to these ads. In one instance, an individual from India wrote by email that he was willing to donate his kidney for his “financial problems.” Nephrologica’s response was to ask for his blood type, suggesting that Goldstein intended to purchase his organ, Schneiderman said.
Nephrologica has agreed to cease doing business immediately in New York State and nationally. The settlement bars Goldstein from conducting or operating any business in New York that provides direct services, including assistance in locating kidney donors, to persons with health conditions for six years. Nephrologica has refunded the $6,000 payment to the complainant and has agreed to provide refunds to all other duped clients, Schneiderman said. Under the settlement, Goldstein also will remit $5,000 to defray the costs of the Attorney General’s investigation.
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