‘Americanized’ kids riled dad; matricide suspected

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — Nada Huranieh’s death was initially seen as an accidental fall, but investigators soon determined the 35-year-old fitness trainer had been murdered — and that her 16-year-old son was the alleged culprit.

Authorities remain tight-lipped about their investigation into Huranieh’s death, but court records shed some light on her family’s sometimes troubled existence behind the walls of their mansion off a quiet dirt road in southern Oakland County.

Bassel Altantawi and Nada Huranieh

Huranieh, 35, died Aug. 21 from injuries suffered in a fall from a second-floor window of the seven-bedroom home on Howard Road in Farmington Hills. Authorities said she was found on her patio by her 14-year-old daughter, who called police to report Huranieh was not breathing.

The death was ruled a homicide following an autopsy, and her son, Muhammad Altantawi, is charged as an adult with second-degree murder. He is being held in Oakland County Children’s Village without bond.

During a pre-exam conference Friday, Judge Marla Parker of 47th District Court scheduled a preliminary hearing for Nov. 17, when she will decide whether Altantawi will be tried in his mother’s death.

The teenager, from all accounts, is a good student without any prior legal trouble. If found guilty of killing his mother, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

“My client has expressed his innocence and said he had nothing to do with his mother’s death and is looking forward to being cleared in the legal process,” said the teen’s attorney, David J. Kramer, who declined further comment.

But court records and people familiar with the family reveal stress inside the home that predated the death, with Muhammad Altantawi being placed “in the middle” of adult issues, including allegations of domestic violence, a parental split and Medicaid fraud charges against his father, a Canton-based physician.

Huranieh and Bassel Altantawi, who wed in Syria in 1999 and had three children, were in the midst of a divorce; both were scheduled to give depositions the week she died.

Huranieh had filed for divorce in March 2016. According to court records, the teen’s father, Bassel Altantawi, now 46, violated orders for supervised visitation and allegedly met several times with his son at a strip mall near the home more than a year ago.

The father also expressed concerns that his children were being “Americanized” by his wife in contrast to their Syrian and Islamic roots, court records indicate.

One of Huranieh’s ex-attorneys, Carolyn Markowitz, said the son expressed anger toward his mother and frequently slipped away to meet his father, who was ordered out of their Farmington Hills home following an incident in which he was accused of throwing his wife down a flight of stairs on Valentine’s Day in 2016.

Muhammad Altantawi, 16, who's accused of killing his mother, during pre-exam conference Sept. 15 in Farmington Hills District Court.

Altantawi eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of spousal abuse. He was placed on a tether and given conditions that included having no contact with his estranged wife for two years and having only supervised visitation with their children, who were ordered to have counseling.

Muhammad Altantawi and his two sisters, age 14 and 12, were in the sole legal custody of their mother at the time of her death, though the boy’s address is listed as being on Ford Road in Canton, according to his district court criminal file. The address is his father’s urgent care clinic.

Part of the divorce filing in Oakland County Circuit Court is confidential.

Bassel Altantawi could not be reached for comment. His divorce attorney, Timothy McGlinchey, said in a circuit court filing last year that his client “denies violently throwing anyone down stairs.”

In a phone interview, McGlinchey said Bassel Altantawi has been rocked by the events of the past year and a half.

“My client is devastated at what has gone on with his family: the divorce; then the death of the mother of his children; and then his son being charged with the death,” the attorney said.

Bassel Altantawi described the altercation with his wife as “an isolated and very unfortunate incident that he has taken responsibility for and it will not be repeated,” McGlinchey wrote in the 2016 divorce filing.

The estranged couple’s older daughter phoned police to report the Valentine’s Day incident, according to Markowitz, Huranieh’s former attorney.

“Her injuries were serious, she could have died,” she said.

It was unclear if the son was at home during the altercation, but Markowitz said in the following months, it became clear that Muhammad was growing apart from his mother. Several times, he ran away to see his father.

“He always returned home but was more like his father, a traditional Muslim,” Markowitz said. “The girls were happy to go shopping with their mother, have electrolysis. But he was very much like his father, didn’t believe in living the American culture. His father even had him working for him against her in the home, taking photographs of things, like items his mother had bought. Like a spy.

“There were third parties, a religious mentor, who was also trying to influence him or relay his father’s wishes, which was also improper,” she said.

In a July 2016 affidavit filed as part of the divorce case, the imam at the Canton Islamic Center where the family worshiped, said he had known both Huranieh and her husband for more than 10 years, socialized with both and considered them friends.

Imam Mohamad Abdulgani denied attempting to influence anyone, including the children, regarding the divorce. He also said he had never been contacted by Altantawi to act on his behalf with such a request.

Altantawi acknowledged he had contacted his son by cellphone and that he had been picking up the teen at the end of the street “to remain in compliance with the no contact order,” according to a statement filed by McGlinchey in circuit court as part of the divorce case.

McGlinchey declined to discuss allegations made in court records by both parents that the other spouse attempted to turn the son against them.

“What no one knows is they came to an amicable resolution regarding unsupervised custody of the children and (Muhammad) was to live with his father and the girls with their mother,” he said. “And then they would rotate between their parents.

“They reached that resolution the week before her death and it was filed with the court but never signed,” McGlinchey said.

The attorney said he was “100 percent certain” that at the time of Huranieh’s death, her son was living with his mother and sisters.

“That hadn’t changed yet,” he said.

McGlinchey added: “I don’t know why the son’s address would be listed in (court records) as in Canton Township — that has to be an error.”

Muhammed Altantawi was attending International Academy West in White Lake Township, he said.

In a court filing last year, McGlinchey described the teenager as a “mature and articulate 15-year-old who may have his own opinions related to the unfortunate situation between his parents and his preference as it relates to his future living situation.”

“Defendant (Altantawi) understands that this divorce matter is between the parents and that the children should not be involved,” McGlinchey wrote in a May 2016 filing to then-Judge Joan Young of Oakland County Circuit Court. “Defendant believes it is the Plaintiff (Huranieh) who is attempting to involve the children in these adult issues.”

Altantawi, a successful physician, had other problems. In May 2016, he was charged by the Michigan attorney general with fraud at his Canton Urgent Care clinic.

In March, he pleaded guilty to two counts of Medicaid fraud and two counts of health care fraud, which are felonies that can carry up to four years in prison. Altantawi was spared prison time but his physician’s license was suspended and paid $277,953 in restitution, according to the state attorney general’s office.

According to divorce filings, Altantawi — who once had an annual income in excess of $350,000 — found himself unable to work as a physician or meet previous court-ordered support payments for his estranged wife and three children.

He said he was “no longer able to support them in their lavish lifestyle” in Farmington Hills and complained of Huranieh going on shopping trips in Metro Detroit and Chicago and racking up thousands of dollars in credit card charges at upscale clothing stores.

Court records show after the March 2016 divorce filing, Altantawi was ordered to maintain the status quo in the household finances yet failed to pay bills that resulted in shutoffs of utility, cellphone and internet service. Medical and dental appointments were disrupted after insurance was canceled for nonpayment and he failed to pay auto insurance and registration renewals on Huranieh’s Mercedes Benz, according to court records.

According to filings in the couple’s divorce case, both parties allegedly withdrew large sums from their joint bank account: Huranieh nearly $630,000 and Altantawi more than $800,000. Besides the Farmington Hills mansion, valued at around $1 million, and the clinic, there is reportedly $200,000 in property in Syria in Altantawi’s name.

Another pending issue is custody of the children. A petition filed in probate court by Serene Zeni, a family friend and attorney, indicates the police investigation of Huranieh’s death is examining “whether other individuals are involved.”

A Wednesday custody hearing is scheduled before Judge Jennifer S. Callaghan of Oakland County Probate Court.

Huranieh’s friend Nada Kourdi of West Bloomfield said the personal trainer cared first and foremost about her children.

“Her kids were everything to her,” Kourdi said. “She was compassionate, eager and enthusiastic to do better for her kids.”