A former Ventura County neurosurgeon who was last based in Detroit, allegedly defrauded the Medicare health care program of millions of dollars by performing unnecessary spinal surgeries on patients, according to a criminal complaint recently unsealed in federal court. Neurosurgeon Dr. Aria Sabit is accused of performing lumbar spinal fusions on numerous patients and billing insurers despite failing to install medical devices in patients whose pain continued after surgery. The 40-page criminal complaint caps a lengthy investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Justice that spanned at least two states, and involved multiple patients and tens of millions of dollars. The criminal complaint follows a civil case filed against the same doctor, and others, in Los Angeles federal court last September.
A disheveled, unshaven Sabit, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt and wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, made a brief court appearance after his arrest. He could face 10 years or more in prison, if convicted.
According to the report in the Detroit News, Sabit, 40, was the focus of a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal last year that concluded he profited from implants he used in dozens of surgeries on patients, including at least one who died. The charges come two months after the Justice Department sued Sabit and a medical network over the alleged fraud. He is accused of using various businesses and medical practices to perpetuate the alleged fraud, including Southfield-based Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group. The firm allegedly billed health care programs for services that were not provided or overcharged for the services, according to the criminal complaint.
Sabit performed surgery on almost everyone who walked through his office, an unnamed employee told an FBI agent. Sabit previously was licensed in California and was the subject of more than two dozen medical malpractice lawsuits between 2009-10. In July, he agreed to surrender his California medical license. The new criminal complaint references five former Michigan patients, four of whom were told by Sabit that they needed to undergo spinal fusion surgery. Subsequently, after continuing pain, all patients received second opinions from other doctors stating that no such spinal fusion had been performed and there was no evidence of any screw, or any medical device in the spinal column of the patient,
The United States has also filed civil complaints in a federal district court in Los Angeles, under the False Claims Act against Sabit, spinal implant company Reliance Medical Systems, a Utah company, two Reliance distributorships – Apex Medical Technologies and Kronos Spinal Technologies, both , Florida companies – and the companies’ owners, Brett Berry, John Hoffman and Adam Pike. Reliance Medical Systems allegedly sold spinal implants in Southern California through distributorships that it controlled, including Apex Medical Technologies and Kronos Spinal Technologies. Drs. Aria Sabit and Sean Xie were physician-investors in Apex, and Drs. Gowriharan Thaiyananthan who practices neurosurgery in Orange California and Ali Mesiwala who practices in Pomona California were allegedly physician-investors in Krons. The Los Angeles civil complaints allege that Apex Medical and Kronos Spinal paid physicians, including Sabit, to induce them to use Reliance spinal implants in the surgeries they performed. The litigation also involves Ventura County neurosurgeon Moustapha Abou-Samra, M.D. and Community Memorial Health System hospital in Oxnard. The private complaint alleges that in the spring of 2009, defendant Moustapha Abou-Samra, M.D. a Board Certified neurosurgeon and president of Ventura County Neurosurgical Associates with full privileges at Community Memorial Health System (CMH), recruited Aria Omar Sabit, M.D., a non-board certified neurosurgeon, to relocate from New Jersey to Ventura County, California to be employed by Abou-Samra’s corporation. Sabit was allegedly allowed to perform highly specialized neurosurgical operative procedures including spinal surgeries with open reduction and internal fixation, spinal fusions, laminectomies and pedicle screw implantation at CMH despite demonstrations that his surgeries were allegedly plagued with high infection rates, high return-to-surgery rates, violations of operating room protocols, failures in instrumentation, surgical mishaps, inappropriate case selection and high complication rates. Sabit had allegedly performed over 375 procedures from June 2009 to December 2010 while under provisional privileges at CMH. Some 27 patients who were injured by Sabit’s procedures brought individual lawsuits in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Ventura against Sabit and some of the other defendants for medical malpractice.
Sabit is originally from Afghanistan and is accused of illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship last year. Sabit allegedly failed to disclose that he knowingly committed health care fraud, prosecutors said. The government wants Sabit held in jail pending trial, noting that he was questioned in September in Atlanta while trying to fly to Dubai. Sabit told a customs officer that he owned a company involved in mining in Afghanistan. In his luggage, officers found a ruby and a 3.6-carat emerald, according to the complaint.