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New York doctor charged with fraud in surgery on mentally ill patients

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 08 June 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1354
  1. Fred Charatan
  1. Florida

    Dr Shaul Debbi, 48, a New York City ophthalmologist, has been charged with performing unnecessary cataract surgery on mentally ill residents of Leben Home in Queens, New York.

    An FBI complaint, unsealed in federal court, stated that Dr Debbi conducted nearly 50 eye operations on more than 30 Leben residents in 1999 and 2000. The procedures cost the government more than $25 000 (£17 250; €27 175), billing records show.

    Prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Manhattan said Dr Debbi had paid a monthly fee to a worker in Leben Home to gain access to residents. The prosecutors charged that Dr Debbi performed cataract surgery on the eye of a mentally ill resident who had not complained about his vision, adding that the surgery had led to serious complications.

    Dr Debbi also wanted to perform cataract surgery on the resident's other eye. The resident refused the surgery, and a doctor at the Veterans Health Administration hospital later determined that the other eye did not have a cataract.

    The resident, Kurt Trentmann, 55, later said he was relieved that officials had taken action against Dr Debbi. “If he had messed up my eye, he can do it to somebody else,” Mr Trentmann said. “And I don't want anybody to go through the stuff I went through.”

    John R Wing, Dr Debbi's lawyer, negotiated his surrender after the FBI obtained a warrant for the doctor's arrest. At a hearing, a federal magistrate released him on $1m bond.

    Mr Wing said of his client, “He is basically a very caring doctor who is helping people in situations where many other doctors of his quality would not invest their time.”

    Dr Debbi, if convicted of healthcare fraud, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.

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