POD Spine Surgeon Sabit Gets 20 Years in Prison


Aria Sabit, M.D. is going to jail for almost 20 years if he completes a sentence imposed in January by a federal judge in Michigan.

Sabit pled guilty back in May 2015 to a $2.8 million healthcare fraud scheme for filing false claims that the government said, “caused serious bodily harm to patients by performing unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries.”

Sabit came to light in September 2014 when the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Utah-based Reliance Medical Systems, LLC and Sabit, among others, in California federal court over an alleged kickback scheme involving physician owned distributors (PODs) and physician investors. The physicians were allegedly being paid based on the number of Reliance Medical spinal implants they used. Sabit was one of the surgeons named in that complaint through a Reliance Medical POD named Apex Medical Technologies, Inc.

Although Sabit’s prosecution, guilty plea and sentencing in Michigan were not directly related to his involvement in a POD in California, the government went to great lengths in the announcement of the sentencing to say that Sabit agreed to convince his California 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.

On November 12, 2012, as part of a federal investigation in California, Sabit testified that he never had been paid any compensation by a medical device manufacturer and that he didn’t know of any device company in Bountiful, Utah, the headquarters of Reliance Medical.

By January 2014, Sabit began invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not testify against himself.

After a detention hearing on December 4, 2014, a magistrate ordered Sabit held in jail. Prosecutors told the judge they fear he was a flight risk and would try to return to his native Afghanistan to start a hospital and drill for oil. They said he is a member of a politically prominent family.

After his detention, a federal grand jury indicted him on December 9, 2014 on 18 counts of fraud and 1 count of “unlawful procurement of naturalization” in a 20-page indictment.

In connection with the guilty plea, the government stated in a press release that Sabit, “admitted that he derived significant profits by convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with “instrumentation” 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.”

Sabit also is a defendant in two civil False Claims Act cases brought by the DOJ in the Central District of California. These cases remain pending.

Between 2009 and 2010, Sabit was the subject of more than two dozen medical malpractice lawsuits in California. An FBI agent testified at Sabit’s detention hearing in Michigan that Sabit performed over 200 spinal fusion surgeries in California from June 2009 to December 2010 and that the DOJ had filed a Civil Complaint against him in September 2014.