EVENDALE, Ohio - A well-known Cincinnati spine surgeon could face up to 25 years in prison after being charged with billing millions of dollars to Medicare and private healthcare programs for unnecessary surgeries.
Federal agents arrested Dr. Atiq Durrani at his home at 5 a.m. Thursday and removed boxes of records from his private practice at the Center for Advanced Spine Technologies, Inc. on Reading Road. Durrani has another office in Florence.
Besides the federal charges, Durrani faces more than 160 lawsuits from surgery patients. Some claim Durrani botched their procedures and left them worse off than before.
Attorney Eric Deters, who said he represents 160 patients, referred to Durrani as "the butcher of Pakistan."
"He destroyed a lot of lives," Deters said. "... He deserves to be prosecuted. He deserves to be stopped.
"Just to show you how egregious he is, I have somebody who has - we lost count, two, three, four – pedicle screws in her aorta … We've had people who had six, seven surgeries unnecessarily."
Durrani was released on his own recognizance after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman in Cincinnati Thursday afternoon.
Bowman ordered Durrani to send a letter to his patients informing them of the charges against him. His defense attorney, Bruce Whitman, told the judge that would be "a death sentence to his practice" and called it "an unconstitutional impingement on his rights."
Durrani, a native of Pakistan, was ordered to surrender his passport and was forbidden to travel beyond the southwestern district of Ohio and the eastern district of Kentucky.
Whitman requested that Durrani be allowed to travel to Pakistan to visit his terminally ill father. Bowman said he should request that at another time.
According to the U.S. Attorney's complaint, Durrani billed Medicare for three times as many interior lumbar fusion surgeries than the next most active medical practitioner.
In the three years from February 1, 2010, through January 31, 2013, the government said Dr. Durrani was the attending physician in cases where Medicare was billed $11 million for that procedure.
The complaint alleges $7.5 million of that was Part A reimbursements for hospitals with 95 percent of that amount going to West Chester Hospital of UC Health.
Another $3.5 million was reimbursed in Medicare Part B payments going to physicians, and government lawyers claim Dr. Durrani received $1.5 million of that amount.
The complaint charges Durrani with one count of health care fraud and one count of making false statements in health care matters. Health care fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The crime of making false statements in health care matters is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Whitman spoke briefly as he and Durrani walked from courtroom, saying he would defend Durrani vigorously against the charges.
"Dr. Durrani has gotten bond. He's free to leave. We're going to defend the case in court. That's all there is to it," Whitman said.
Michael Lyon, Durrani's attorney in the lawsuits, said Durrani feels he has done nothing wrong.
"He's been practicing in this town since 1999, he's never paid a penny on a medical malpractice case ever, nor has he ever had a serious complaint by any hospital, risk manager or employee," Lyon said.
Deters said other local spine surgeons are now treating his clients and have told him they're willing to testify that Durrani's surgeries were unnecessary.
He said he hired experts to review Durrani's work.
"They're looking at that radiology film and saying to our clients and these patients, ‘You did not need that surgery based upon these radiology films,' " Deters said.
One of Deters' clients, Dana Setters of Trenton, said Durrani operated on her twice and she can't straighten her head, do household chores or even lift her 2-year-old daughter.
"I've had a C-1/C-2 fusion in my neck and I've had a lumbar surgery. My neck surgery was a failure and it was done incorrectly, which is why my head leans to the right," Setters said. "My lower back was also done incorrectly and I've got pain down both of my legs from it and probably will have from here on out.
"I can't drive. I can't play with my little girl or lift her up … I can't sleep correctly. I can't do any of the household things that a woman should be able to do. I have to rely on my husband and my mother and my mother in law to help me. So, it's affected everything that I normally have to do in my life."
Setters said the two surgeries cost a total of $135,000. She said she cried when she heard about the charges against Durrani.
Read the U.S. Attorney's complaint below or at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/740127-u-s-attorneys-complaint-against-dr-atiq-durrani.html
"It was the best news that we all could get today. I mean, I'm ecstatic to finally think that we could absolutely get justice and some relief, that he's going to have to pay one way or another for this," Setters said.
"I'm just so ecstatic. I cried. I'm still in shock."
Stephanie Herrin-Thren said her condition also worsened after surgery by Durrani.
"Dr. Durrani told me that I had instability and that I was at risk of being paralyzed from the neck down or dying if I didn't have the surgery with him. We had the surgery and after the surgery, my symptoms began to worsen dramatically. Got worse and worse over time to the point that I was barely functional," she said.
Herrin-Thren said she went to another surgeon.
"He looked at the surgical films and said the surgery was unnecessary and there was no evidence of instability," she said.
She said he used to love outdoor activities but can't participate anymore.
"We were huggers. We were rock climbers. We were adventurers. Whitewater rafting. We lived a fun and full life as a family. Now, my husband and son do those things and I either sit at home on the couch and wait for them to come back to me or I go when I can just walk along with them," Herrin-Thren said.
Lyon said Wednesday that nothing he has seen in Durrani's cases that rises to the level of Medicare or Medicaid fraud.
Lyon also disputed the government's claim that some of the surgeries were not needed. Citing experts he hired to defend his client, Lyon said, "Indications are the surgical procedures are appropriate."
Read related story: Dr. Durrani faces more than 150 lawsuits of malpractice: http://www.wcpo.com/dpp/news/local_news/Dr-Atiq-Durrani-Orthopedic-surgeon-faces-20-new-malpractice-claims-from-attorney-Eric-Deters