Detroit — A Bloomfield Hills neurosurgeon accused of performing unnecessary spinal surgeries pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to health care fraud in two separate criminal cases.

Dr. Aria Sabit, 39, admitted Friday before U.S. District Judge Paul Borman that his actions caused physical pain to his patients in both Michigan and California between 2010 and 2012. In his schemes, Sabit fraudulently billed and received $11 million from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies, officials said.

"Disregarding his Hippocratic oath to do no harm, Dr. Sabit enriched himself by performing unnecessary, invasive spinal surgeries and implanting costly and unnecessary medical devices, all at the expense of his patients' health and welfare," Assistant Attorney General Caldwell said in a statement following the hearing. "Doctors who sell their medical judgment and ethics for personal profit endanger the lives and safety of vulnerable patients who count on their advice to make life-altering decisions."

Sabit initially pleaded not guilty after he was indicted in November. After some changes, defense attorney Timothy Lessing said his client felt "comfortable" with the new charges. He pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud in California, four counts of health care fraud in Michigan and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.

"He's taking responsibility for what he's done," Lessing said after the hearing. "... He's pleaded guilty, so clearly there is remorse."

During court Friday, Sabit also forfeited his interest in proceeds from the sale of his Bloomfield Hills home as well as four bank accounts.

Sabit said in court that while working as a neurosurgeon in California in 2010 he conspired with Apex Medical Technologies LLC to receive illegal kickbacks for using their spinal implant devices in surgeries that patients either didn't need, or in surgeries that were more complex than needed.

In Michigan, he said in four instances he billed Medicaid and private insurance companies for surgeries he did not perform.

The indictment says patients didn't know about their fraudulent back surgeries until they had another doctor examine them.

Tonocca Scott, 40, of Ypsilanti says he was a patient. He's still out of work and reluctant to have more surgery. He says the pain in his back is like a "heart attack." His malpractice lawsuit against Sabit is pending.

Sabit returns to court for sentencing Sept. 15. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Associated Press contributed.


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