Originally published on July 12, 2015, at NationofChange.org
An oncologist was sentenced to 45 years in prison on Friday after administering medically unnecessary chemotherapy to patients who did not have cancer in order to overbill their insurance. Instead of saving lives, Dr. Farid Fata purposely misdiagnosed his patients so he could order more expensive treatments and invasive tests without concern for their health. After collecting millions of dollars from fraudulent claims to Medicare and private insurance companies, Dr. Fata was finally caught when two employees uncovered his crimes and decided to become whistleblowers.
After noticing an abnormality in her blood work, Monica Flagg’s primary care physician referred her to Dr. Fata, who owned and operated a cancer treatment clinic called Michigan Hematology Oncology (MHO) with multiple locations throughout Detroit and a diagnostic testing facility, United Diagnostics PLLC. In July 2012, Dr. Fata lied to Flagg and told her that she had aggressive multiple myeloma. Flagg endured numerous tests, three painful bone marrow biopsies, and copious amounts of immune boosters before undergoing a round of chemotherapy on July 1, 2013.
On the same day of her first and only chemotherapy treatment, Flagg later tripped over a suitcase in her bedroom and broke her leg. While recuperating at the hospital, Flagg met Dr. Soe Maunglay, who was another doctor in Dr. Fata’s practice taking care of his patients while Fata was on vacation in Lebanon. Concerned for Flagg’s health and suspecting his boss of purposely misdiagnosing his patients, Dr. Maunglay conducted a series of tests to determine whether or not Flagg even had cancer.
“He told me, ‘You don’t have cancer. You are 51 years old. You’re healthy. Don’t ever go back to Dr. Fata. Find a new doctor,’” Flagg recalled.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Flagg said. “I did one chemo treatment. The others did so many that they’re practically dead anyway.”
As the office manager at Dr. Fata’s Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills, Michigan, George Karadsheh began asking questions after noticing a high turnover rate in the reputed doctor’s diminishing staff. When Karadsheh asked Dr. Maunglay why he was quitting the practice, Dr. Maunglay informed him that Fata was poisoning his patients and giving them false cancer diagnoses. After digging through patient records, they contacted the Justice Department on August 2, 2013, and filed a whistleblower lawsuit three days later.
The FBI arrested Fata, and he pled 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. Before his sentencing on Friday, Dr. Fata’s victims and the families of his deceased patients testified in court.
“What really makes me angry is the fact that he lied. He knew he was lying, he gave the drugs to me anyway, and I had no knowledge of it and now my life is turned upside down,” former patient Teddy Howard said after enduring several rounds of chemotherapy even though he does not have cancer. “I can’t do anything about it. I don’t know how long I’m going to live.”
“Look at what’s left of my mouth ― I have one tooth left,” said Robert Sobieray, a retired auto plant supervisor who lost his teeth after Dr. Fata treated him for a cancer that he did not have. “What was the motivation? Why? Why me? I don’t know what did I ever do to him.”
“Farid Fata, I hate you,” stated Laura Stedtfeld, who confronted the doctor in court for killing her father. “You are repulsive. You disgust me. You are a monster… Clearly you’re a coward because you can’t even look at me now. You poisoned, tortured, and murdered my dad.”
In a posthumous letter that he wrote last December, a cancer patient named Donald Crabtree accused Fata of killing him. His dying wish was for Fata to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“None of the tumors were helped ― they increased in number, they increased in size,” Crabtree’s wife read in court. “I believe Dr. Fata knowingly and purposely treated me for the wrong cancer and gave me the wrong chemotherapy.”
Fata admitted to administering medically unnecessary cancer treatments to 553 patients and submitting over $34 million in fraudulent insurance claims to Medicare and private insurance companies. He also confessed to soliciting kickbacks from Guardian Angel Hospice and Guardian Angel Home Health Care in exchange for his referral of patients to those facilities and administering unnecessary and expensive positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Caught giving his patients false cancer diagnoses, administering too much or improper treatment to patients with cancer, and providing chemotherapy to terminal patients who no longer needed it, Fata was sentenced to 45 years in prison on Friday and ordered 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 Leslie 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.”
Although Fata apologized in court and claimed to have accepted responsibility for harming his patients, Fata has legally denied responsibility in the roughly 40 lawsuits against him.
“My reaction is mostly sadness because I realized that despite the sentence, the patients would have to endure pain and suffering long after this decision,” Karadsheh told reporters.
“I think he’s guilty of the most cruel thing that a human being can do to another human being,” stated Dr. Maunglay.