A local mosque in Detroit, Mich., was paying a physician to perform female genital mutilation on young girls, an attorney serving as a guardian for the doctor's children alleged in court Tuesday.
The disclosure occurred during a hearing in which the state is seeking to terminate the parental rights of Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, the lead defendant in Detroit's historic genital cutting case.
Nagarwala's attorney emphatically denied the allegation.
Nagarwala is accused of cutting the genitals of two Minnesota girls as part of a religious procedure, though prosecutors have alleged in court that she may have subjected up to 100 girls to the procedure over the last 12 years. Nagarwala is a member of a small Indian-Muslim sect that has a mosque in Farmington Hills.
According to guardian ad litem Cynthia Nunez, the attorney assigned by the court to look out for the best interests of the children, Nagarwala's husband is the treasurer of the Farmington Hills mosque, and could face criminal charges himself involving allegations that the mosque was paying his wife to perform genital cutting procedures on young girls for years.
Nagarwala's husband buried his face in his hands and sobbed in court Tuesday.
Nagarwala's lawyer, Shannon Smith, adamantly denied the allegation that the mosque was paying her client to perform genital cutting procedures.
"That's absolutely not true," Nagarwala's lawyer, Shannon Smith, said afterward. "The government has grossly overstated and misstated so many facts in this case ... just to make it sound bad."
According to Smith, the mosque never paid her client to perform any genital cutting procedures, but rather only reimbursed her for money that she had spent on food items for the mosque's food bank program. She said that Nagarwala frequently bought items, such as bread, pizza and pop for the food bank, and that the mosque would pay her back.
"This case is not what they claim it is," she said of federal prosecutors and state authorities.
Officials at the mosque could not be reached for comment. The Dawoodi Bohra sect has previously maintained that it does not support any practice that violates U.S. law and has urged its members to refrain from practicing any type of procedure that could be construed as genital cutting.
Since the charges were filed against Nagarwala, the state of Michigan has sought to strip her parental rights while she remains locked up pending trial in U.S. District Court. Most recently, a Wayne County juvenile court referee last week ordered her children be placed into foster care.
But to prevent that from happening, Nagarwala's husband instead agreed to move out of the Northville home where the children are being taken care of by their grandparents.
In Wayne County juvenile court Tuesday, Nunez argued against letting the father visit his children without the supervision of state officials.
An attorney for the father argued the man didn't need state supervision and that he should be allowed to freely visit his children. The lawyer said the father is no threat to the children and that it's in their best interest to see him as often as possible to avoid experiencing more trauma.
Wayne County Judge Frank Szymanski agreed to let the father see the children unsupervised for the time being. The Nagarwala children are among several minors who face the threat of being taken away from their parents as a result of the federal investigation.
On Tuesday, three Bohra children were removed from their homes over allegations that a 14-year-old girl was subjected to a genital cutting procedure. According to attorney Deanna Kelley, who is representing the parents in two such cases, Nagarwala is not the accused doctor in this case. She declined to elaborate, noting only that the state removed three children from their home and suspended all visitation rights.
In recent months, several young Bohra girls have been interviewed and examined for genital cutting as part of the ongoing federal investigation that triggered criminal charges last month against three members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect: Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50. Dr. Attar is accused of letting Nagarwala use his Livonia clinic to perform the procedures; his wife is accused of holding the girls' hands during the procedures.
So far, authorities have identified at least eight alleged genital mutilation victims, including two Minnesota girls and four metro Detroit girls ages 7-11. They live in Troy, West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills and Livonia and are at risk of being placed into foster care if the state strips their parents of their parental rights.
Defense lawyers have argued that taking the children away from their parents would only subject them to more trauma. They've also argued that the children at issue have thrived under the care of their parents, and that there's no justifiable reason to take them away.
All three defendants accused of trying to cover up their actions and instructing others in the Bohra community to lie to authorities about the procedure, or say nothing.
The government has argued that all three defendants knew what they were doing was illegal, but did it anyway.