A Michigan surgeon settled charges claiming he defrauded Medicare. Aria Sabit MD will pay $899,000 to resolve the charges that he falsely billed Medicare for millions of dollars. Sabit is currently incarcerated on related charges. He is serving a nineteen and a half year sentence.
That there are rogue physicians practicing Medicine in Michigan is unfortunately not a surprise. What amazed us, however, is the evidence suggesting that various hospitals were in on his outrageous scheme. Everyone made money. Except taxpayers, of course, who were footing the bills and patients who suffered enormously.
What also makes this case stand out is that it was brought by two patients turned whistleblowers. Most successful Medicare fraud cases are brought by healthcare workers. The law only requires the whistleblower to have inside information. A single patient being billed for services not provided is proof of a billing problem, not fraus. Get two patients to join forces, however, and suddenly you have the proof of a pattern and practice of fraud.
Our story begins with Corey Davis and Lolita Collins, both former patients of Sabit. When the case arose, Sabit was a licensed physician in Michigan and the owner of the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group located in the affluent Detroit suburb of Southfield.
Corey Davis first met with Sabit in April of 2012. At the time, he was complaining of minor back issues. Davis had already met with another physician who recommended several different methods of treatment.
Corey sought a second opinion. When Dr. Sabit saw Corey, he told him that he needed immediate surgery. That surgery was done days later at Sinai – Grace Hospital. Because Corey was a Medicaid recipient, Sabit billed Medicaid for $43,252.
Sabit told him that as part of the surgery, he would require two permanent rods in his back.
The surgery didn’t go well. What started as minor back pain prior to the surgery led to Corey being unable to walk without assistance after the surgery. Every time Corey went back to see Sabit he simply received a script for additional pain killers.
Corey finally went back to his original doctor. That doctor, Tejpaul Pannu, reviewed the surgical records which clearly indicated that Corey received hardware in his back. The films, however, showed nothing.
The surgery left Davis unable to walk and wheelchair bound.
Thus far we have two things going on in this story. Sabit probably botched the surgery… surgery that likely should never have been performed in the first place. He also billed Medicaid for a very complex and expensive procedure that clearly wasn’t performed.
And what about the Sinai – Grace Hospital? It was their medical staff including a hospital anesthesiologist that were present in the operating room yet no one said anything about the phony billing.
A similar fate happened to Lolita Collins. On February 12, 2012 Sabit operated on her at Doctor’s Hospital of Michigan. According to her bill to Medicaid, he also put hardware in her back. After her surgery she suffered complications and had to be hospitalized for almost a week.
Like with Corey, when Lolita’s own doctor looked at a post surgery MRI, he found no hardware.
After the two patients met and compared notes, they were pretty sure something was amiss. They were right, it appears that Sabit may have billed for both unnecessary surgeries and for surgeries never performed at four different Michigan hospitals, Doctor’s Hospital, Sinai Grace Hospital, McLaren Lapeer Regional Medical Center and Huron Valley – Sinai Hospital.
Thankfully, Sabit’s medical reign of terror was short-lived. He was arrested on November 14, 2014. On May 22, 2015 he pled guilty to healthcare fraud. Ordinarily, healthcare fraud carries a sentence of less than 10 years but judges can enhance the sentence up to life if a patient is hurt or dies because of the fraud.
Prosecutors say he “derived significant profits by convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with instrumentation, which he never rendered, by billing public and private healthcare benefit programs for those fraudulent services. As part of the scheme, he would operate on the patient and dictate that he had performed a spinal fusion with instrumentation, which he never performed.”
California has also revoked Sabit’s medical license for “negligence and corrupt acts.” An FBI affidavit says that Sabit was the subject of over two dozen medical malpractice lawsuits in California in just an 18 month period of practice there. (That makes us wonder how much of a background check – if any – the four Michigan hospitals did after Aria Sabit moved his practice from California to Michigan.)
More ominously, the FBI claims that Sabit was also under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and Customs Enforcement. Sabit is originally a refugee from Afghanistan who went to medical school here in the U.S.
After Aria Sabit was sentenced to nearly twenty years in prison, Detroit’s U.S. Attorney said, ‘Doctors who lie to their patients about the procedures they have undergone not only obtain funds by fraud, but, even worse, they put patients’ health at risk.”
Under the False Claims Act, the two former patients can receive between 15% and 30% of the $899,000.
Normally the fines for violations of the False Claims Act are much higher. In this case they could have exceeded triple the estimated $3 million in false billings. Because Sabit is now serving a lengthy prison sentence, however, prosecutors have to be satisfied with what they can collect. Sabit also likely owes much more in medical malpractice claims.
Do You Have Information about False Medical Bills?
The whistleblower lawyers at MahanyLaw help healthcare workers with inside information about billing fraud collect rewards for their information. We also help put a stop to the illegal behavior.
If you have inside information about medically unnecessary procedures, kickbacks, or billing for medical services never performed contact us. Just want more information? Visit our Medicare fraud whistleblower information page.
What about patients with inside info regarding healthcare fraud? Despite the solid victory in this case, patient cases are extremely difficult unless we can identify the names of at least one other witness. But think if you think you can show us a pattern of fraud, we are happy to listen and help if we can.
Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online by email at or by phone at 202-800-9791. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept strictly confidential. We only get paid for our services if we are successful collecting money on your behalf.