TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced the temporary license suspension of Dr. Harsha Sahni, a Central Jersey physician who illegally recruited, concealed, and harbored two women from India to be household servants for low pay, while causing them to believe they would be arrested and deported if they spoke to law enforcement. Sahni allegedly forced one of the victims, who lived in the doctor’s home in Tinton Falls, to work 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and would not allow the victim to receive potentially life-saving treatment for an aneurysm without the victim first finding someone to cover her daily duties in Sahni’s home.
Sahni, who maintains a rheumatology practice in Colonia, pleaded guilty in February 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. She is awaiting sentencing next month.
Now, in a Consent Order filed with the State Board of Medical Examiners (“the Board”) last Wednesday, Sahni has 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 convictions. That administrative action – a Verified Complaint filed with the Board on August 31, 2023 – alleges that 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.
“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,” said Attorney General Platkin. “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 – identified as Victim 1 and Victim 2 – 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. Sahni admitted she provided the victims food, clothing, and housing and harbored them to work as housekeepers at a price less than what she would have had to pay housekeepers had she employed them legally. Sahni further admitted instructing the women to tell immigration officials that they were members of her family and in the United States for tourism, knowing that was not true. And despite the fact that the women were household employees, Sahni admitted in court that she did not pay taxes related to their labor and did not disclose the labor performed by the victims on her personal income tax return.
In the Verified Complaint and other documents filed with the Board, the State alleges that Sahni required Victim 1, who resided in the doctor’s home, to work from approximately 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for roughly $240 to $600 a month, which Sahni paid to Victim 1’s family in India.
Additionally, the State alleges that Sahni defrauded various entities into providing free and reduced-cost medical care to Victim 1. In 2016, Sahni falsely claimed that Victim 1 had been abused by her husband to scam a domestic violence charity into providing Victim 1 with free dental treatment. Knowing that Victim 1 could not speak, read, or write English, Sahni allegedly completed the entire charity application form, including those portions which were to be completed and verified by the patient. Sahni identified herself as a medical professional on the charity’s “Advocate Form,” listing her medical office’s address and phone number, and signing a certification confirming that she believed Victim 1’s dental problems were the result of domestic violence. Based upon the application allegedly falsely certified by Sahni, Victim 1 was treated by a volunteer dentist who was not compensated for his work. The value of the donated services was $6,000. Sahni allegedly perpetrated a similar scam against the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey’s Community Health Center when she misrepresented Victim 1’s income, housing, and employment status, resulting in Victim 1 receiving services for a reduced fee.
Sahni also faces allegations that she prevented Victim 1 from receiving treatment for a life-threatening brain aneurysm. According to the Verified Complaint, when Victim 1 began developing headaches following an auto accident in 2014, Sahni told the woman that rest was not permitted and if Victim 1 had a headache she should take Tylenol and complete her work. As the headaches worsened, Sahni allegedly told Victim 1 that seeing a doctor would be too expensive and since Victim 1 did not have any paperwork showing she was in the United States legally she could not be treated. Sahni allegedly treated Victim 1’s increasingly severe headaches with Tylenol and unidentified pain medications until 2021, when the headaches became debilitating and threatened to keep Victim 1 from performing her daily work. At this time, Sahni finally brought Victim 1 to an emergency room where she falsely presented herself as Victim 1’s sister and served as her translator, according to allegations contained in the Verified Complaint. When a CT Scan of Victim 1’s head revealed an unruptured aneurysm in her brain, doctors advised Victim 1 – through Sahni – that immediate surgery was indicated and that failure to do so could lead to Victim 1’s death. The State alleges that even with her medical knowledge and sworn Hippocratic oath, Sahni put her own needs before a medically compromised person by encouraging Victim 1 to leave the hospital against medical advice. Once home, Sahni allegedly required Victim 1 to work the rest of the evening, completing her regular tasks.
The following day, Sahni took Victim 1 for a follow-up examination at JFK University Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute, where neurosurgeons concluded that because of the aneurysm’s size there was a 1-in-5 chance that it would rupture and Victim 1 could die. Sahni, who had allegedly represented to neurosurgeons that she was Victim 1’s primary care physician, subsequently received a Neurological Consultation letter detailing the medical status of Victim 1 and the “high mortality” risk if the aneurysm was not treated. Despite these findings, Sahni allegedly continued to advise Victim 1 to not undergo surgery while continuing to make Victim 1 complete her normal household workload. After speaking with family members in India, Victim 1 expressed a desire to move forward with surgery, at which time Sahni allegedly told her she could not undergo surgery until she found a replacement to cover her daily duties in Sahni’s home. According to the State, there is no evidence in Victim 1’s medical record that Sahni ever took her for follow-up treatment or scheduled the surgery prior to law enforcement removing Victim 1 from Sahni’s home.
“Dr. Sahni’s inhumane treatment of the two victims, and her use of her license to perpetrate it, demonstrate a gross lack of judgment that cannot be compartmentalized from her duties as a physician,” said Cari Fais, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “This conduct cannot be tolerated in the medical profession, as it places patients at risk and degrades the profession as a whole.”
Under the terms of an Interim Consent Order filed with the Board on September 13, 2023, the temporary suspension of Sahni’s license will remain in effect until the conclusion of a plenary hearing on the allegations contained in the Verified Complaint and further order of the Board, or upon entry of a settlement.
Sahni’s criminal sentencing is scheduled for October 5, 2023 before U.S. District Judge Georgette Castner in Trenton federal court. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Sahni faces up to 30 months in federal prison. As a part of the plea agreement, Sahni will pay the victims a combined $642,212 and will pay up to $200,000 towards the treatment of Victim 1’s brain aneurysm. Sahni also will pay restitution to the IRS.
The matter before the Board was investigated by the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs.
Deputy Attorney General Kate J. Calendar, under the supervision of Professional Boards Prosecution Section Chief Doreen Hafner, within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, is representing the State in the matter before the Board.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.