Doctor in genital mutilation case freed on $4.5M bond

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jumana Nagarwala, the Northville doctor accused of mutilating the genitalia of “countless” young girls, was released on $4.5 million unsecured bond Tuesday after five months in jail.

Nagarwala, 44, smiled after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman freed her under a set of extraordinary bond conditions — including what is believed to be the largest unsecured bond in Detroit federal court history. Relatives and friends helped win her release by posting more than $4.5 million worth of real estate in multiple states.

The judge’s decision came despite federal prosecutors calling Nagarwala a danger to the community and flight risk with ties to Africa and India and access to $2.4 million in assets that could bankroll a prolonged flight from justice. They reminded the judge Nagarwala was arrested in April while trying to board a flight to Kenya for a prearranged visit with two of her four children, who study abroad.

Nagarwala was released five months after being charged in the nation’s first federal case involving female genital mutilation, a case that has raised awareness about the procedure – and sharp divisions over it.

Nagarwala must live under home detention with a GPS tether and post her Northville home as security, the judge said.

“Should she flee, she’s really hurting her kids,” the judge said.

The judge also froze Nagarwala and her husband’s retirement accounts and assets stored in a safe deposit box. Nagarwala and her immediate family also must surrender their passports.

Nagarwala also will waive extradition to the United States in the event she does flee the country, though prosecutors said the waiver would not guarantee her return and could take years to finalize.

Nagarwala also is prohibited from having contact with friends or members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small group of Shia Muslims from India at the center of the genital mutilation scandal.

Nagarwala cried “tears of joy” after the judge’s order.

“She’s happy,” defense lawyer Shannon Smith told reporters.

The judge’s order triggered a wave of relief among at least 17 members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who attended Tuesday’s hearing and smiled or turned to each other in apparent disbelief. The women wore the Dawoodi Bohra’s traditional cultural dress, called a rida, that covered their heads and bodies in bright colors including green, pink and yellow. The men wore traditional white caps fringed in gold.

"This is one step forward," Nagarwala friend Murtaza Qayumi, 69, of Livonia, told reporters outside the courtroom. "She wants to be with her family and the community."

Prosecutors had urged the judge to keep Nagarwala in jail, arguing she is the most culpable of seven co-defendants and directed a 12-year female genital mutilation conspiracy.

Nagarwala organized the medical appointments and “wielded the tool that the government asserts was used to cut the genitalia of countless young girls,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward said.

Nagarwala was scheduled to stand trial Oct. 10 but the complex case and two new defendants prompted an adjournment. A new trial date likely will be scheduled in mid-to-late 2018.

Nagarwala was the only defendant being held without bond. She was jailed after being arrested in April and lost an earlier bid for bond in July. That’s when Friedman ruled she was a flight risk because she is facing charges that could send her to federal prison for the rest of her life and because she has ties overseas.

The bond hearing came six days after a grand jury indicted two Minnesota mothers, charging them with female genital mutilation and conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation.

Eight people have been charged in the nation’s first federal case involving female genital mutilation. Nagarwala and the others are accused of participating in a conspiracy to cut prepubescent girls as part of a religious procedure practiced by some members of the Dawoodi Bohra.

Locally, most members of the sect belong to the Anjuman-e-Najmi mosque in Farmington Hills.

Nagarwala is accused of mutilating the genitalia of the two Minnesota girls at a Livonia clinic in February.

Prosecutors estimate up to 100 girls were cut during the 12-year conspiracy. So far, the indictment references six victims.

Prosecutors say the girls were cut but defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was benign and not female genital mutilation. They accuse the government of overreaching.

Nagarwala is accused of mutilating the Minnesota girls Feb. 3 at the Burhani Medical Clinic in Livonia, owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar.

The Farmington Hills man has been indicted along with his wife, Dr. Farida Attar, who is accused of helping arrange the procedure and being in the examination room while it was performed.

The couple was arrested earlier this year and accused of accused of committing female genital mutilation, trying to cover up the crime and conspiring with Nagarwala to cut girls.

The indictment alleges Nagarwala and the Minnesota mothers plotted a night-time rendezvous at the Livonia clinic.

Nagarwala sent text messages to the moms directing them to meet her at the clinic Feb. 3, prosecutors allege.

The mothers drove with their daughters from Minnesota to Metro Detroit so Nagarwala could perform female genital mutilation that day at the Livonia facility, according to the indictment.

One girl told the FBI that Nagarwala “pinched” her on the “place (where) she goes pee,’ ” and a subsequent medical examinations showed the girl’s genitals did not appear normal and a section had been altered or removed, according to a court filing. A doctor also observed scar tissue and small healing lacerations.

The second girl identified Nagarwala as the doctor she visited in Detroit and a subsequent medical exam showed the girl’s genitalia had a small incision and a small tear, according to a court filing.

Nagarwala’s lawyer has said the doctor merely removed mucous membrane from the girls’ genitalia, placed the material on gauze pads and gave it to their families for burial.

The girls were brought to the clinic by mothers who wanted them to undergo a religious rite of passage, defense lawyers said.

The procedures were benign and legal, defense lawyers have said.

Prosecutors disagree.

“Their pants and underwear were removed ... and Dr. Nagarwala approached with a sharp tool to cut their genitals,” assistant U.S. attorney Sara Woodward said during an earlier court hearing.

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