Fata committed the most egregious medical fraud in the US.
NEW YORK: A Lebanese American hematologist-oncologist based in Detroit, Dr. Farid Fata, was sentenced to serve 45 years in prison for his role in a health care fraud scheme that included administering medically unnecessary infusions or injections of chemotherapy to 553 individual healthy patients who had no cancer and submitting to Medicare and private insurance companies approximately $34 million in fraudulent claims. Fata told some patients of his they had a terminal blood cancer called multiple myeloma, when they were actually healthy.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Special Agent in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Chicago Regional Office and Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
Fata, 50, of Oakland Township, Michigan, pleaded guilty in September 2014 to 13 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks and two counts of money laundering. U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman of the Eastern District of Michigan imposed the sentence and ordered Fata to forfeit $17.6 million.
“Rather than use his medical degree to save lives, Dr. Fata instead destroyed them in pursuit of profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Time and again, Dr. Fata callously violated his patients’ trust as he used false cancer diagnoses and unwarranted and dangerous treatments as tools to steal millions of dollars from Medicare, even stooping to profit from the last days of some patients’ lives. While no sentence can restore what was taken from his patients and their families, the sentence imposed ensures that never again will Dr. Fata lay hands on another patient.”
“Health care fraud has been a serious problem in Michigan, but no case has been as egregious as the conduct of Dr. Farid Fata,” said U.S. Attorney McQuade. “Dr. Fata did not care for patients; he exploited them as commodities. He over-treated, under-treated and outright lied to patients about whether they had cancer so that he could maximize his own profits.”
“It is startling and abhorrent when greed is so potent that it drives a medical professional to recklessly abandon the most basic and important principle of his profession, ‘First, Do No Harm,” said Special Agent in Charge Pugh. “Dr. Fata did just that when he falsely diagnosed his patients with cancer and administered toxic chemotherapy with potentially harmful and even deadly side effects. Today’s sentencing is a clear message that, working closely with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to investigate, charge and prosecute medical professionals who jeopardize the health of patients.”
“This is the most egregious case of fraud and deception that I have seen in my career,” said Chief Weber. “Dr. Fata not only defrauded the government out of millions of dollars, but he lied to his patients about their health and intentionally put their lives at risk. In fact, because of his lies, some of those patients who he was entrusted to care for likely died as a result of his actions. This defendant greedily cared more about his own financial well-being than the lives of his patients. This disgusting and diabolical scheme has hurt hundreds of patients and their families and stolen from them something that no punishment from the court can do to make them whole.”
Fata was a licensed medical doctor who owned and operated a cancer treatment clinic, Michigan Hematology Oncology P.C. (MHO), which had locations in Rochester Hills, Michigan; Clarkston, Michigan; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Lapeer, Michigan; Sterling Heights, Michigan; Troy, Michigan; and Oak Park, Michigan. He also owned a diagnostic testing facility, United Diagnostics PLLC, located in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
In connection with his guilty plea, Fata admitted to prescribing and administering unnecessary aggressive chemotherapy, cancer treatments, intravenous iron and other infusion therapies to patients in order to increase his billings to Medicare and other insurance companies. Fata then submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and other insurers for these unnecessary treatments.
Fata also admitted to soliciting kickbacks from Guardian Angel Hospice and Guardian Angel Home Health Care in exchange for his referral of patients to those facilities.
Fata further admitted to using the proceeds of the health care fraud at his medical practice, MHO, to promote the carrying on of additional health care fraud at United Diagnostics, where he administered unnecessary and expensive positron emission tomography (PET) scans for which he billed a private insurer.
Fata’s egregious crimes came to light when an office manager working for him, turned whistleblower.
George Karadsheh, who worked for Dr. Farid Fata’s Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan, said he started asking questions after staffers kept leaving the practice, reported ABC. When Karadsheh learned that a different oncologist in the practice was quitting, he said the doctor told him it was because Fata was administering chemotherapy to patients who didn’t need it.
“[This doctor] explained that Dr. Fata was actually administering chemotherapy to patients without need,” Karadsheh told ABC News “Nightline.” “He was also explaining that patients who were on hospice were taken off hospice and put on chemotherapy, put back on chemotherapy. He also pointed out that patients who were receiving chemotherapy without disease were receiving it to the very last day of life. So at that point I discovered that there may be some issues there.”
“I have violated the Hippocratic oath and violated the trust of my patients,” Fata said, according to CNN affiliate WDIV, when he was sentenced. “I do not know how I can heal the wound. I do not know how to express the sorrow and the shame.”
CNN reported that to the dozens of Fata’s victims who filed into U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan throughout the week to watch his sentencing, his apology doesn’t matter. Many will live with the effects of his, at times, unnecessary treatments, for the rest of their lives.
As Geraldine Parkin, the wife of one former patient said in court, many were “tortured until their last breaths.”
Robert Sobieray went to Fata and was given chemotherapy treatments for two and a half years. But he never had cancer.
“It just gets to me,” Sobieray said. “What was the motivation? Why, why me? I don’t know what did I ever do to him.”
The chemotherapy treatments were painful, and made him physically sick. They were so strong that his teeth fell out and his jaw started to change shape. Years after finding out he didn’t have cancer, he has lost all but one of his teeth.
“With all the bills piling up, I can’t afford to get new teeth,” Sobieray said, to CNN. “(I) would like to eat a good meal again someday. Like salad, used to love eating salad. I can’t eat that anymore. A lot of things I love I can’t eat anymore.”
Patty Hester went to Fata in 2010 after being recommended by another doctor. Her white blood cell counts were low, and Fata was a renowned hematologist and oncologist.
Hester, who worked in an emergency room at the time, was devastated when Fata told her she had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
“He said, ‘You need to start on chemo, like, immediately,'” Hester recalled.
She was in disbelief. And after debating with Fata, he instead put her on iron treatments and, eventually, blood plasma treatments. She was still taking those pricey plasma treatments the day co-workers made her come to the TV and see the news: her doctor had been arrested.
Hester did not have cancer.
Before being sentenced, Fata turned to face those who were at his sentencing and apologized.
“The quest for power is self-destructive,” he said, according to WDIV. “They came to me seeking compassion and care. I failed. Yes, I failed.”