Dr. Farid Fata, a 49-year-old Michigan cancer specialist, pled guilty on Tuesday to administering medically unnecessary anti-cancer drugs and filing fraudulent Medicare claims. Besides health care fraud (19 counts), Fata’s indictment included conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks (one count), unlawful procurement of naturalization (one count), and money laundering (two counts). Fata pled guilty to 16 out of the 23 counts against him. “It is the most egregious case of health care fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, “that I have ever seen.” McQuade explained that this case is in an entirely different league than other healthcare fraud cases because patients were not simply billed for either extra or unreceived treatments but that Fata was “using [patients] as commodities in order to make money.”
According to federal prosecutors, Fata billed Medicare for more than $225 million for the six-year period of August 2007 to July 2013. Fata received as much as $91 million, and netted around $35 million in the fraud scheme. Fata was apparently looking for places to stash the money, including a furnished castle in Adma, Lebanon for $3,000,000. Fata, a native of Lebanon, wrote to his financial advisor in August of 2010 requesting that the advisor “pls get in contact with my dad and go see the house!”
The 2013 federal indictment accuses Fata of the “deliberate misdiagnosis of patients as having cancer to justify unnecessary cancer treatment” and administering chemotherapy to “end-of-life patients who will not benefit from the treatment.” Fata similarly fabricated other diagnoses such as anemia “to justify unnecessary hematology treatments.” Fata owned Michigan Hematology Oncology (MHO), which serviced about 1,200 patients in several offices within the suburban Detroit area.
A nurse practitioner who began working for Fata in 2009 told FBI agents that one patient at MHO fell and hit his head, and that Fata said the patient “must receive his chemotherapy before he could be taken to the emergency room.” The patient was taken to the emergency room after his chemotherapy but later died as a result of his head injury. Several civil suits have been filed against Fata. One of those suits alleges the intentional misdiagnosis of 78-year-old Donald Virkus, who was referred to Fata for a case of possible esophageal cancer. His daughter Donna said that a review of his medical file shows Donald did not have cancer but was administered chemotherapy for a period of two years. Because of the chemotherapy, Mr. Virkus developed a blood-related cancer that caused his death. In another suit, Dave Kroff alleges he was prescribed years of unnecessary chemotherapy, of which the immune-suppressing effects caused him to lose both his legs. Attorney Donna MacKenzie, who has filed several of the civil suits against Fata, believes that there were “a number of players who either knew or should have known what was going on.” Along with Fata, the civil suits target other doctors and nurses in Fata’s practice.
In addition to other doctors and nurses allegedly knowing what was going, a complaint against Fata had been filed in 2010 with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs by an oncology nurse who spent a mere 1.5 hours in one of Fata’s offices. Angela Swantek said that she was offered a job but quickly left the office “disgusted with what I observed.” Said Swantek, “I thought, ‘This is insane.’” Sitting in the parking lot, Swantek “was truly almost in tears just because of what I saw.” The following year, in 2011, investigators notified Swantek that they had found no wrongdoing.
Many of the people filing civil suits wonder why Fata was not charged with murder. Liz Lupo, whose mother died after being treated by Fata, reasons that if Fata has admitted knowingly administering drugs that are toxic even when needed, let alone not needed, then he should be charged with murder. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said that the evidence found by investigators was not enough to charge Fata with murder.
Fata faces sentencing in February of 2015. The government seeks a life-in-prison sentence. The prison sentences he faces according to the crimes he has admitted to are twenty years plus a $5 million fine for money laundering, ten years for health care fraud, and five years plus a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to receive kickbacks.
By Donna Westlund