DETROIT, MICH. - A federal prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Wednesday, telling a federal judge that the government estimates that as many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at the hands of a local doctor and her cohorts.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward disclosed the information while trying to convince a judge to keep a doctor and his wife locked up in the historic case. It involves allegations that two Minnesota girls had their genitals cut at a Livonia clinic in February as part of a religious rite of passage and were told to keep what happened a secret.
"Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. (Jumana) Nagarwala," Woodward said, referring to the lead defendant in the case, later adding, "The Minnesota victims were not the first victims."
Against Woodward's wishes, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted bond to two other defendants in the case: Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, who is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform genital cutting procedures on minor girls; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, who is accused of holding the girls' hands during the procedure to keep them from squirming and to calm them.
The government believes the three defendants, all members of a local Indian-Muslim sect, subjected numerous girls to genital cutting procedures over a 12-year period. To date, the government says it has identified eight victims -- including the two Minnesota girls -- though Woodward said the government estimates there could be as many as 100 victims. She said that's a conservative estimate, and that it's based on Dr. Attar's alleged admission to authorities that he let Nagarwala use his clinic up to six times a year to treat children for genital rashes.
Attar's lawyer, Mary Chartier, scoffed at the claim.
"I think the government has overstated so many aspects of this case and this is one more example of overreaching," Chartier said after the hearing, during which she and another lawyer convinced the judge to set the Attars free.
The defense has argued that the Attars did not engage in any criminal act and that the procedure at issue is a protected religious rite-of-passage that involves no cutting, but rather a scraping of genital membrane. They also argued the Attars are not a danger to the society and have no reason or desire to flee, convincing U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman to release them on bond.
Friedman, who stressed that he believes the case involves "serious" charges, issued the following conditions in granting bond to the defendants:
- They have to surrender their passports.
- They will be on house arrest, on GPS tethers, and are not allowed to communicate with anyone except family members or their lawyers.
- They will only be allowed to leave the home to visit their lawyers or for doctor's visits -- both of which have to be approved first.
"I think he is thrilled," Chartier said of her client, Dr. Attar. "He is anxious to fight this case and clear his name."
The Attars will likely not be released from jail until Thursday, when their lawyers surrender their passports to authorities. At issue for the Attars is their parenting rights. Currently, they are not allowed to live with their minor daughter as the state is trying to terminate their parenting rights.
Chartier said a hearing is scheduled on the parenting-right issue for next week, and she is hoping that the Attars will be allowed to live with their daughter again.
The Attars have been jailed for more than a month since getting charged in April in an explosive case that has captured international attention and planted a bull's-eye on a small Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra.
The Attars are Bohras, along with the lead defendant in the case, Dr. Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, who is accused of performing the cutting procedures on the two Minnesota girls.
Nagarwala, meanwhile, remains locked up pending the outcome of her trial. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, was in court Wednesday. She declined comment on allegations that her client subjected up to 100 girls to genital cutting, but noted that she, too, will seek to have her client released on bond.
If convicted, Nagarwala and Dr. Attar face up to life in prison; Attar's wife faces up to 20 years. The two physicians face the most serious charge in the case, transportation of an individual with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, which carries a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
A trial is set for October 10.
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