On January 9, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman for the Eastern District of Michigan ordered Dr. Aria Sabit to serve 19 years and 6 months in federal prison for preying on unsuspecting patients he convinced to have unnecessary spine surgeries. Judge Borman described Sabit’s conduct as “cruel and unusual punishment” after Sabit admitted to performing unnecessary sugeries as well as fake and exaggerated operations. The sentence came after 14 former patients emotionally described the pain and suffering they endured due to Sabit performing unnecessary and botched surgeries on them; the victims requested a long sentence. Although likely minimal solace to his victims, the sentence ends Sabit’s predatory and shocking career of fraud and patient harm spanning across the country.
In 2010, while a practicing spine surgeon at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, California, Sabit invested in a medical supply company called Apex Medical Technologies that distributed screws, plates, rods and other pieces of spinal surgery instrumentation. To maximize his return on investment and capitalize on illegal kickbacks paid by Apex, Sabit began performing completely unnecessary spinal surgeries as well as overloading legitimate surgery patients with hardware sold by his company. In his guilty plea, entered in May 2015, Sabit admitted the money he made from using Apex spinal implant devices motivated him either to refer patients in for spine surgery who did not medically need surgery or refer his patients for more complex surgeries, such as multi-level spine fusions, that they did not need. According to court records, he received nearly $440,000 in illegal kickbacks from Apex based on his over-use of Apex products.
Prosecutors described Sabit’s operations as “plain butchery.” Almost 30 of his California patients — who he operated on in just 18 months — have sued him for malpractice. During those 18 months, Sabit’s surgeries accounted for 71% of all patients who were unexpectedly readmitted to Community Memorial Hospital following surgery and several patients died due to complications, according to Sabit’s colleagues at the hospital. In December 2010, the hospital suspended Sabit’s privileges “to protect the life and well-being of patients.”
With his practice and reputation in California rightly destroyed, Sabit moved to the Detroit, Michigan area and became owner and operator of Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group, which had various locations in the Eastern District of Michigan. Through his medical practice, Sabit began to encourage and convince patients to undergo highly invasive and dangerous spinal fusion surgery to have their spine fused together with metal hardware. However, Sabit never actually installed hardware in patients and instead just performed a bone and tissue graft but billed insurance programs, including Medicare, for external hardware surgeries.
The unnecessary and fake spinal fusion surgeries, which defrauded insurance programs of $2.8 million are just a portion of the myriad of criminal and civil cases against him. Sabit is also a defendant in two civil False Claims Act cases brought by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California, based on his fraud and predatory medical care in California. The Justice Department also contends that Sabit, a native of Afghanistan, illegally gained United States citizenship in 2013 by failing to disclose that he was facing two dozen medical malpractice claims based on his California fraud.
Considering the heinous crimes committed by Sabit, which have costs patients’ their lives, their mobility — multiple former patients are now wheelchair bound — and millions of dollars from the health care system, we applaud Judge Borman’s decision to throw out the plea agreement that Dr. Sabit’s attorneys had worked out with prosecutors, who were seeking a sentence of 9 to 11 years and impose the nearly 20 year sentence.