A Detroit-area neurosurgeon was sentenced yesterday to 235 months in prison for his role in $2.8 million health care fraud scheme in which he caused serious bodily harm to patients by performing unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Acting Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of the FBI’s Detroit Division, Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Chicago Region, Special Agent in Charge Glenn R. Ferry of the HHS-OIG Los Angeles Region and Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Detroit Field Office made the announcement.
Aria O. Sabit M.D., 43, of Birmingham, Michigan, pleaded guilty to four counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, resulting in losses to Medicare, Medicaid and various private insurance companies.
Sabit was a licensed neurosurgeon who owned and operated the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group, which had various locations in the Eastern District of Michigan. In connection with his guilty plea, Sabit admitted that he derived significant profits by convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with “instrumentation” (medical devices designed to stabilize and strengthen the spine) that he never performed and billed public and private healthcare benefit programs for those fraudulent services. Sabit further admitted that, in some instances, he operated on patients and dictated in his operative reports – which he knew would later be used to support fraudulent insurance claims – that he had performed spinal fusion with instrumentation, when he had not. Specifically, Sabit fraudulently billed public and private health care programs for instrumentation when, in fact, he used cortical bone dowels made of tissue. Sabit failed to render services in relation to lumbar and thoracic fusion surgeries, including in certain instances, billing for implants that were not provided.
Before moving to moving to Michigan, Sabit was a resident of Ventura, California, and a licensed neurosurgeon in California. Sabit admitted that, in approximately February 2010, while he was on the staff of a California hospital, he became involved with Apex Medical Technologies LLC (Apex), which was owned by another neurosurgeon and three non-physicians. In exchange for the opportunity to invest in Apex and share in its profits, Sabit agreed to convince his hospital to buy spinal implant devices from Apex and to use a substantial number Apex spinal implant devices in his surgical procedures. Sabit further admitted that he and Apex’s co-owners concealed Sabit’s involvement in Apex from the hospitals and surgical centers.
In connection with his guilty plea, Sabit admitted that the financial incentives provided to him by Apex and his co-conspirators caused him to use more spinal implant devices than were medically necessary to treat his patients in order to generate more sales revenue for Apex, which resulted in serious bodily injury to his patients. Sabit also admitted that, on a few occasions, the money he made from using Apex spinal implant devices motivated him either to refer patients for unnecessary spine surgeries or for more complex procedures that they did not need.
The FBI, HHS-OIG and ICE investigated the Michigan case. The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the California case, which was subsequently transferred to the Eastern District of Michigan. The California case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Michigan. Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick, formerly of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, is prosecuting the California case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Regina R. McCullough and Philip A. Ross of the Eastern District of Michigan are prosecuting the Michigan case.
Sabit also is a defendant in two civil False Claims Act cases brought by the Justice Department in the Central District of California. These cases remain pending.
The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged over 3,000 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $10 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.