Feds level new charges in genital mutilation case
Detroit — Federal prosecutors filed new charges in the nation's first case involving female genital mutilation, accusing one doctor of mutilating three more prepubescent girls and alleging one girl was drugged.
The new charges bring to a total of nine girls from three states who prosecutors say underwent the illegal procedure at a Livonia medical clinic since 2015.
The indictment was filed one week after The Detroit News exclusively reported that a grand jury was weighing new charges in a case first filed last year. As many as six members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect from India, were questioned by a federal grand jury last week, including one woman from Illinois.
The case is being closely followed in India, where the Dawoodi Bohra are based, and by international human rights groups opposed to female genital mutilation, a federal crime since 1996.
The indictment filed Wednesday refers to three girls prosecutors say underwent a procedure performed by Dr. Jumana Nagarwala at the Burhani Medical Clinic on Farmington Road in Livonia in 2015. The three girls are from Illinois and were born in 2007 and 2008.
The clinic, which was shuttered last year, was owned by Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and managed by his wife, Dr. Farida Attar, both of Farmington Hills. They also are facing charges in the case.
Farida Attar was accused in the indictment Wednesday of giving one girl Valium that was ground up in liquid Tylenol.
Prosecutors say the girls — four from Michigan, two from Minnesota and three from Illinois — underwent female genital mutilation but defense lawyers say the procedure performed on the girls was benign and not female genital mutilation. They accuse the government of overreaching.
The eight-count indictment adds one new charge against Nagarwala: conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. That charge is a 30-year felony.
The new charge accuses Nagarwala, of Northville, of conspiring with others to bring two Minnesota girls to Metro Detroit to engage in illicit sexual conduct in early 2017.
Nagarwala is accused of mutilating the Minnesota girls on Feb. 3, 2017, at the Burhani Medical Clinic.
The new charge deepens the possible penalty facing Nagarwala. Prosecutors leveled the new charge eight months after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the most serious count against Nagarwala and Fakhruddin Attar, a sex charge punishable by up to life in federal prison.
The judge’s move was a victory for the defense teams but left intact several other counts, including a conspiracy charge that could send the doctors to prison for 20 years.
There was no immediate comment from Nagarwala's lawyer. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment.
Fakhruddin Attar's lawyer vowed to fight.
"Dr. Attar is innocent, and we’ll fight the new charges the same way that we planned to fight the old ones – with truth and the facts," Mary Chartier wrote in an email to The News.
A lawyer for Farida Attar declined comment.
The new allegations are expected to delay an unprecedented trial scheduled for January in federal court in Detroit.
The new indictment was filed amid a defense challenge of the constitutionality of an untested federal law criminalizing female genital mutilation. Legal experts suspect the government is trying to bolster its case to withstand the legal challenge by adding more girls from multiple states.
Defense lawyers have argued that a law banning female genital mutilation is unconstitutional.
One defense argument is that Congress lacked authority to enact the female genital mutilation law under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution because the procedure has nothing to do with interstate commerce.
"If they brought the child up here from out of state, that could at least bolster the claim that this fulfills Congress' authority over interstate commerce," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.
So far, eight people have been charged with participating in a conspiracy that lasted 12 years and led to mutilating the genitalia of 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.
Female genital mutilation is an internationally recognized violation of human rights.
Some members of the Dawoodi Bohra community who have spoken against the procedure said the surgery is performed to suppress female sexuality, reduce sexual pleasure and curb promiscuity, according to court records.
The procedure is most common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, along with migrants from those regions, says the World Health Organization.
There are four major types of female genital mutilation, including a partial or total removal of the clitoris.
Prosecutors have alleged that two girls’ clitorises were completely removed but the evidence is lacking for at least one girl, Nagarwala's lawyer Shannon Smith said.
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.
The procedure has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996, and there are no medical benefits for girls and women, according to the World Health Organization.
Those charged also include:
• Farida Arif and Fatema Dahodwala, both of Oakland County, are charged with participating in the conspiracy and having their daughters undergo female genital mutilation.
• Two mothers from Minnesota, Haseena Halfal and Zainab Hariyanawala were charged last year with female genital mutilation and conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation. The allegations involve their daughters, who were 7 at the time of the procedure.
• Tahera Shafiq, 49, of Farmington Hills. She is accused of participating in the procedure involving the Minnesota girls.