LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles hospital provided liver transplants to four Japanese gang figures, including one of Japan's most powerful gang bosses, over a period when several hundred area patients died while awaiting transplants, according to a published report.
The surgeries were performed at UCLA Medical Center by world-renowned liver surgeon Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, executive chairman of UCLA's surgery department, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Times cited a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The surgeries were performed between 2000 and 2004, and in each of those years more than 100 patients died awaiting liver transplants in the greater Los Angeles region, according to the Times.
There is no indication UCLA or Busuttil knew any of the patients had ties to Japanese gangs, known as yakuza, the Times reported. The school and Busuttil said in statements they don't make moral judgments about patients, but treat them according to medical need.
U.S. transplant rules do not prohibit hospitals from performing transplants on foreign patients or those with criminal histories.
Tadamasa Goto, who had been barred from entering the United States because of his criminal history, was the most prominent transplant recipient. He leads a gang called the Goto-gumi, according to the Times.
With help from the FBI, Goto obtained a visa to enter America in 2001 in exchange for leads on potentially illegal activity in this country by Japanese criminal gangs, Jim Stern, retired chief of the FBI's Asian criminal enterprise unit in Washington, told the Times. The FBI did not help Goto arrange his surgery with UCLA.
The FBI didn't get much out of Goto, Stern said.
"I don't think Goto gave the bureau anything of significance," Stern said. Goto "came to the States and got a liver and was laughing back to where he came from. ... It defies logic."
Stern said he was not involved with the deal, and learned of it when he became unit chief in 2004. He said he continues to be troubled by it.
After the transplant, Goto was again barred from re-entering the U.S., the Times said, citing a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.
Busuttil performed liver transplants at UCLA on three other men now barred from entering the U.S. because of their criminal records or suspected affiliation with Japanese organized crime groups, the Times said, citing a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Times said it was not naming those three transplant recipients because neither they nor their lawyers could be reached.
Goto underwent a successful transplant in July 2001. He received the liver of a young man who died in a traffic accident, said Goto's Tokyo-based lawyer, Yoshiyuki Maki.
"Goto is over 60 now, but his liver is young," Maki said.
Goto continued to receive medical care from Busuttil in Japan. Busuttil traveled there and examined Goto more than once, Maki said. Busuttil also evaluated Goto while he was in custody in 2006, Maki said.
In May 2006, Goto was arrested in Japan on suspicion of real estate fraud. He was acquitted of the charges in March of this year.
It is unclear when Goto joined UCLA's waiting list, but he had been in the U.S. two months when he received a new liver, the Times reported. Overall, 34 percent of the patients added to UCLA's liver waiting list between January 1999 and December 2001 received a new liver within three years of being listed, the Times reported, citing national transplant statistics.
"The more critically ill you are, the higher on the list you move," UCLA spokeswoman Roxanne Moster said Friday.
In a statement, the UCLA Health System said privacy laws prevented it from commenting on specific cases.
Busuttil, a former president of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons who has testified before Congress on who should receive priority for transplants, released a statement this week.
"As a surgeon, it is not my role to pass moral judgment on the patients who seek my care," read the statement, which didn't directly address the Japanese patients. "If one of my patients, domestic or international, were in a situation that could be life-threatening, of course I would do everything in my power to assure that they would receive proper care."
It could not be determined how much UCLA and Busuttil were paid for the Japanese transplants, the Times reported.