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Neurosurgeon sentenced to almost 20 years for $2.8 million healthcare fraud involving harmful surgeries

Aria Sabit lied about procedures performed, fraudulently billed government programs, performed unnecessary surgeries and implants, DOJ says.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Detroit-area neurosurgeon Aria O. Sabit will spend 19 and a half years in prison as part of a plea agreement for his role in a $2.8 million healthcare fraud scheme in which patients suffered serious bodily harm from unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries, the Department of Justice announced earlier this week.

The 43-year-old licensed neurosurgeon pleaded guilty to health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, resulting in losses to Medicare, Medicaid and various private insurance companies.

Sabit owned and operated the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group. Sabit admitted he convinced patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with "instrumentation", a term that refers to medical devices designed to stabilize and strengthen the spine, when in fact he never utilized instrumentation but billed public and private healthcare benefit programs for those fraudulent services because it was more lucrative. He even dictated in some of 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. In fact, Sabit used cortical bone dowels made of tissue. In certain instances, Sabit billed for lumbar and thoracic fusion surgeries that were not performed, including implants that were not provided, the Department of Justice said.

[Also: Medicaid Personal Care Services Program besieged by fraud, HHS report shows.]

Before Michigan, Sabit lived in Ventura, California and practiced neurosurgery. According to authorities, he admitted that around February 2010, while he was on staff at a California hospital, he formed a relationship with Apex Medical Technologies. He agreed to persuade his hospital to buy spinal implant devices from Apex, and to use a "substantial" number of Apex spinal implant devices in his surgical procedures, in exchange for the opportunity to invest in Apex and share profits. The relationship was purposefully concealed, the DOJ said.

[Also: Running list of notable 2016 healthcare frauds]

Sabit also admitted that the financial incentives received from Apex and his co-conspirators motivated 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. Additionally, Sabit told authorities money he made from using Apex spinal implant devices motivated him either to refer patients for unnecessary spine surgeries or for more complex procedures patients didn't need.

Sabit also is a defendant in two civil False Claims Act cases brought by the Justice Department in the Central District of California, which are pending.

The FBI, HHS-OIG and ICE investigated the Michigan case. The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the California case, which was transferred to the Eastern District of Michigan. 

Twitter: @BethJSanborn

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