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Atypical: FBI Coordinates Yakuza Transplants

May 30th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Atypical

On May 18th I directed my readers at The Tokyo Traveler to an article in the Washington Post titled This Mob is Big in Japan by Jake Adelstien. In the article Adelstien describes his days as a crime writer for the Yomiuri Shimbun and how, because of “a story that change his life”, he now lives in fear. Here is an excerpt from the article:

On May 18, 2001, the FBI arranged for Tadamasa Goto — a notorious Japanese gang boss, the one that some federal agents call the “John Gotti of Japan” — to be flown to the United States for a liver transplant …

…The FBI had long suspected the yakuza of laundering money in the United States, and Japanese and U.S. law enforcement officials confirm that Goto offered to tip them off to Yamaguchi-gumi front companies and mobsters in exchange for the transplant.

If you read though to the end of the article you will notice a footer that states “Jake Adelstein is the author of the forthcoming “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.””. While I found the article interesting I wondered if any of the facts were embellished in order to generate interest for the upcoming book.

Those fears seem to be unfounded as today the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Four Japanese gang figures got liver transplants at UCLA between 2000 -2004. In each of those years over 100 people died while waiting for new livers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The article goes on to confirm the Adelstien story about the FBI’s involvement in the Goto transplant and that of three other unnamed yakuza from Japan. It goes on to talk about the organ transplant system itself and states:

Several transplant experts and bioethicists contacted by The Times said they were troubled by the transplants, especially because organs are in such short supply in this country. In the year of Goto’s surgery, 186 people in the Los Angeles region died waiting for a liver, U.S. transplant statistics show.

Some, but not all, of the experts said a transplant center has an obligation to determine whether a patient would be a worthy custodian of an organ and to protect potential donors’ faith in the system.

The cost of each liver transplant can exceed $500,000 and foreign recipients are required to pay the full amount out of pocket. In Goto’s case the cost would have been much higher since once he was able to travel back to Japan he was again banned from entering the United States and the cheif executive chairman of UCLA’s surgery department who did the transplant traveled to Japan to examine Goto on more than one occasion. The Los Angeles Times was unable to determine who paid the bills for these four liver transplants.

This brings up two pretty big issues that neither article addresses:

  1. Did the US government pay for these operations in exchange for “little useful information on Japanese gangs”? Is this an example of US tax dollars hard at work?
  2. Did the US government put pressure on the organ transplant system to move Goto and his cronies up to the top of the list?

I am an organ donor, it says so on my drivers’ license, and this won’t stop me from continuing to be one but I don’t like the idea of the government deciding who gets whatever is salvageable from my body once I am dead! Also, if the government is going to pay for a transplant I would much prefer it be on a young person who has the potential to become or will continue to be a productive member of society.

What’s your take on this? Is this an example of typical US government practices or an atypical situation?

UPDATE: The LA Times reports that Goto and one other patient with suspected yakuza ties donated $100,000 each after receiving their liver transplants and that Goto even has a plaque on the wall to honor his donation.   This amounts to approximately 20% of the estimated cost of the operation – what a deal!

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jul // May 31, 2008 at 2:26 am

    That is crazy! But I guess I’m not surprised our government would be up to such things.

    Thanks for stopping by This non-American Life! :)