Detroit — A Detroit emergency room physician was charged Wednesday with mutilating the genitalia of two 7-year-old girls in what is believed to be the first case of its kind brought under federal law.
Jumana Nagarwala of Northville was charged with female genital mutilation, a five-year felony, and transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, a felony punishable by 10 years to life, according to a complaint unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
“According to the complaint, despite her oath to care for her patients, Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”
Nagarwala was arrested Wednesday night and arraigned in federal court Thursday.
She was dressed in a light-colored, matching dress and khimar, or veil, that covered her head, neck and shoulders.
Magistrate Judge Anthony Patti scheduled a detention hearing in the case for 1 p.m. Monday. Her attorney and the government will argue over whether Nagarwala should be held in prison while she awaits trial.
In the meantime, Nagarwala will be held in jail until Monday’s hearing.
Her attorney, Shannon Smith, who has offices in Bloomfield Hills, declined to comment on the case Thursday.
Nagarwala’s employer is not identified in court records. But a 44-year-old emergency room physician with the same name is listed on Henry Ford Health System’s website with hospital privileges in Detroit and West Bloomfield Township.
A Henry Ford spokesman confirmed that Nagarwala works for the hospital system and said she has been put on administrative leave.
“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility,” health system spokesman David Olejarz said Thursday. “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice.”
The FBI investigation alleges Nagarwala removed clitoral skin from two girls who were brought to Detroit earlier this year, activity that violates both federal and state law regarding female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation is an internationally recognized violation of human rights and is popular among certain religious and cultural communities, according to the FBI. The procedure is believed to initiate girls into adulthood and ensure their marriageability, according to Human Rights Watch, a New York nonprofit human rights organization.
The practice is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, along with migrants from those regions, according to the World Health Organization.
Worldwide, an estimated 140 million women and girls have undergone the procedure, according to the World Health Organization. More than 3 million girls in Africa undergo the procedure each year.
“Female genital mutilation constitutes a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said in a statement. “It is also a serious federal felony in the United States. The practice has no place in modern society and those who perform FGM on minors will be held accountable under federal law.”
FBI picks up trail
The case against Nagarwala dates to at least February. The FBI had launched an investigation after receiving a tip that Nagarwala performed female genital mutilation on 7-year-old girls at a Livonia medical clinic, according to the criminal complaint.
Nagarwala does not work at the clinic and there are no billing records indicating that she has performed medical procedures there, according to the complaint.
In February, FBI agents obtained a court order to review Nagarwala’s phone. The records showed several calls between Nagarwala’s phone and a Minnesota phone number, according to the FBI.
Agents learned the Minnesota phone number was linked to a family that included a 7-year-old girl.
Agents reviewed records for the Minnesota phone and learned from cell tower data that the phone was near motels in Farmington Hills on Feb. 3 before being returned to Minnesota the next day.
Hotel records helped show two families, each with a young girl, stayed at the hotel on Feb. 3. Surveillance video from the unnamed hotel show two adult women and two girls checking into the hotel.
Seven days later, an FBI child forensic interviewer talked to one of the girls, who said she was brought to Detroit with a second girl for a “special girls’ trip,” according to the FBI.
After arriving in Farmington Hills, the girls were taken to a doctor because “their tummies hurt.”
“While at the doctor’s office, a procedure ‘to get the germs out,’ ” was performed on the first girl, according to the criminal complaint. The girl was shown a photo of Nagarwala and said she was the doctor who performed the procedure, according to the FBI.
The girl told the FBI that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place (where) she goes pee,’ ” the government alleges.
“(The girl) said that she was told not to talk about the procedure,” FBI Special Agent Kevin Swanson wrote in the complaint.
A subsequent medical examination showed that the girl’s genitals did not appear normal and a section had been altered or removed, according to the court filing.
“Finally, the doctor observed some scar tissue and small healing lacerations,” the agent wrote.
The second girl said she underwent a procedure and identified Nagarwala as the doctor she visited in Detroit, according to the complaint.
“She said that she ‘got a shot,’ and that it hurt really badly and she screamed,” the FBI agent wrote. “Her parents told her that the procedure is a secret and that she is not supposed to talk about it.
“(The girl) said that after the procedure, she could barely walk, and that she felt pain all the way down to her ankle,” the agent continued.
A subsequent medical exam showed the girl’s genitalia had a small incision and a small tear.
On Monday, Minnesota Child Protective Services personnel and a federal agent interviewed the second girl’s parents. They confirmed the trip to Detroit, saying they took the girl to see Nagarwala for a “cleansing” of extra skin, according to the court filing.
Agents have identified other children who may have been victimized by the doctor between 2005 and 2007, including children in Michigan, according to the FBI agent.
“The allegations against the defendant in this investigation are made even more deplorable, given the defendant’s position as a trusted medical professional in the community,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis said in a statement. “My sincere hope is that these charges will give support to those who have allegedly suffered both physically and emotionally.”
Federal officials said the case appears to be the first of its kind nationwide. Though a few cases in other jurisdictions involved plotting about performing female genital mutilation, it does not appear anyone was charged with allegedly carrying out a circumcision.
Last year, the FBI tried to raise awareness about the crime, saying an estimated 513,000 women and girls nationwide — most of whom live in metropolitan areas — were at risk of undergoing a procedure that has been a federal crime since 1996.
During a voluntary interview with investigators, Nagarwala denied performing female genital mutilation on minor children and said she was not involved in any such procedure, according to the complaint.
“The allegations detailed in today’s criminal complaint are disturbing, David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office said in a statement. “The FBI, along with its law enforcement partners, are committed to doing whatever necessary to bring an end to this barbaric practice and to ensure no additional children fall victim to this procedure.”
The FBI is asking anyone with information about the doctor and female genital mutilation to call 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5984).
Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.