A Colonia-based doctor's medical license has been temporarily suspended for illegally recruiting, concealing and harboring two women from India to work as her household servants and allegedly preventing one of them from receiving life-saving treatment for a brain aneurysm, according to Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.
As part of a consent order filed with the State Board of Medical Examiners last week, Dr. Harsha Sahni, 66, who has a rheumatology practice in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, consented to the temporary suspension of her medical license pending the outcome of an administrative action seeking to permanently revoke her license in the wake of her criminal conviction.
The administrative action, part of verified complaint filed with the medical examiners board on Aug. 31, 2023, alleges Sahni’s crimes, and her actions in perpetrating them, violate professional standards, demonstrate an appalling lack of judgment and moral character, and are of a nature such that her continued licensure would be inconsistent with the public’s health, safety, and welfare, according to the Attorney General's Office.
In February Sahni pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of conspiracy to conceal and harbor aliens and filing a false tax return in connection with her conduct while harboring two Indian nationals from 2013 through 2021. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5 before U.S. District Judge Georgette Castner in Trenton federal court. As part of the plea agreement, the doctor faces up to 30 months in federal prison as well as paying the victims a combined $642,212 and up to $200,000 toward the treatment of one worker's brain aneurysm and restitution to the IRS.
According to court documents, from 2013 through August 2021 Sahni conspired with others to conceal and harbor two foreign nationals from India, who Sahni recruited to work for her and her family in their homes in New Jersey. Sahni harbored the victims for her and her conspirators’ financial gain and paid the victims’ families in India in exchange for their labor.
Sahni forced the women, who lived in her Tinton Falls home, to work 15-hour days, seven days a week, and led them to believe they would be arrested and deported if they spoke with law enforcement. In addition, the doctor would not allow one woman to receive treatment for a brain aneurysm until she first found someone to take over her duties at the doctor's home.
“The criminal exploitation and utter disregard for the well-being of the victims in this case shocks the conscience and violates the most basic principles of medical practice,” Platkin said in a statement. “To protect the public and the integrity of the medical profession, we are securing the temporary suspension of Dr. Sahni’s medical license pending the outcome of these very serious allegations against her.”
In pleading guilty to the criminal charges, Sahni admitted she knew the women were in the country illegally and that she harbored them for financial gain and caused them both to believe that they would be arrested and deported if they interacted with law enforcement. The doctor provided the victims with food, clothing, and housing and harbored them to work as housekeepers for low pay and instructed the women to tell immigration officials they were family members, visiting as tourists.
The doctor also admitted to not paying taxes related to the women's work and did not disclose their labor on her personal income tax return, according to the Attorney General's Office. One worker who lived in the doctor's home worked from about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for about $240 to $600 a month, money the doctor paid to the woman's family in India.
According to the Attorney General's Office, the doctor also defrauded others into providing free and reduced medical care to that woman by falsely claiming in 2016 that one worker had been abused by her husband and arranging for a domestic violence charity to provide the worker with $6,000 in dental treatment for free. Sahni filled out the charity's advocate form because the worker could not speak, read or write in English.
That same worker began developing headaches after a 2014 car accident, and Sahni told her that rest was not permitted and she should take Tylenol and finish working. As the worker's headaches got worse the doctor told her that seeing a physician would be too expensive and she could not be treated because of her illegal status and continued to have the worker take Tylenol and other pain medications, according to the Attorney General's Office.
In 2021 when the headaches kept the worker from performing her duties, she was taken to the emergency room where a head scan showed an unruptured brain aneurysm and was advised to undergo immediate surgery or she could die. Sahni who identified herself as the worker's sister and served as translator, urged the worker to leave the hospital and once home required the woman to work the rest of the day to complete her duties, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Sahni took the work for a follow-up examination at JFK University Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute the next day where neurosurgeons concluded that because of the aneurysm's size there was a 1-in-5 chance that it would rupture and woman could die. Sahni, however, who represented herself as the worker's primary care physician, continued to advise the worker not to undergo surgery and continue to complete her household duties, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
The worker contacted family members in India who encouraged her to have the surgery, but Sahni told her she could not undergo surgery until she found a worker to replace her. There is no evidence in the worker's medical record that Sahni ever took her for follow-up treatment or scheduled the surgery prior to law enforcement removing the worker from the doctor's home, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ doctor illegally harbored unpaid Indian workers; license suspended