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Oncologist sentenced to 45 years in prison over chemotherapy fraud

Farid Fata admitted to prescribing and administering unnecessary aggressive chemotherapy, cancer treatments and infusion therapies to patients.

Farid Fata admitted to prescribing and administering unnecessary aggressive chemotherapy, cancer treatments and infusion therapies to patients to increase his billings to Medicare and private insurance companies.Farid Fata admitted to prescribing and administering unnecessary aggressive chemotherapy, cancer treatments and infusion therapies to patients to increase his billings to Medicare and private insurance companies.

Farid Fata, a hematologist-oncologist from the wealthy northern Detroit suburbs, was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison. As head of Michigan Hematology Oncology, until recently the state’s largest private cancer network, Fata was accused to running a fraud scheme that involved administering unnecessary chemotherapy to 553 patients -- including some who were intentionally misdiagnosed with cancer -- and illegally billing Medicare and private insurers some $34 million in false claims.

In 2010, warning signs came from an oncology nurse, Angela Swantek, who considered taking a job with Fata’s practice and observed what she described to TV station WDIV as a “chemo mill”—with more than dozen patients getting chemotherapy at any given time and apparently not in compliance with best practices for infusion. She declined the job and filed a complaint with the Michigan licensing regulators, but the state later determined that nothing was out of compliance.

Three years later, the FBI stepped in on a tip from George Karadsheh, who managed the office of Crittenton Cancer Center in Rochester Hills. Karadsheh grew suspicious after clinical staff and other doctors were leaving the practice; one doctor told him Fata kept insisting on aggressive chemotherapy regimens, even for patients who didn’t need it. In August, 2013 Fata was arrested.

[Also: Running list of notable 2015 healthcare frauds]

“Healthcare 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 Barbara McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan. “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.”

Last September, Fata plead guilty to 13 counts of healthcare fraud, one count of conspiracy involving kickbacks and two counts of money laundering. He also admitted to soliciting kickbacks from Guardian Angel Hospice and Guardian Angel Home Health Care in exchange for patient referrals. U.S. District Judge Paul Borman of the Eastern District of Michigan imposed the sentence of 45 years in prison, after which Fata would be 95 years old, and ordered him forfeit $17.6 million.

Originally from Lebanon, Fata came to the U.S. in the 1990s to complete a hematology-oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—training at a prestigious institution that he allegedly used to manipulate patients and family members questioning treatment decisions.

[Also: Attorney General announces 'largest Medicare fraud takedown in history']

Michelle Mannarino said in a patient impact statement that Fata diagnosed her mom with breast cancer, and convinced her that she “had a very aggressive cancer that would become untreatable if she stopped chemo,” including at one point 24-hour-drip with a chemo drug more commonly used in colon cancers. “Several times when I had researched and  questioned his treatment, he asked if I had fellowshipped at Sloan Kettering like he had,” Mannarino said.

One patient, according to the FBI, fell and hit his head during an office visit. Fata insisted that the patient complete a chemotherapy infusion before going to the hospital, and the man later died with a head injury.

Another patient, whose family testified anonymously, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and then urged by Fata to pursue an aggressive treatment strategy at the expense of her personal finances.

“Fata had instilled so much false hope of a cure over  the months of seeing him,” they wrote in a statement to the court. “Farid reminded [her] that she would die without him. We were wondering if there was any reason to file bankruptcy, questioning her life expectancy.  He indicated again that he was  trying a new therapy and we should definitely file bankruptcy on her behalf.”

When the family asked about hospice, Fata apparently told them the end-of-life palliative option was unnecessary and their mother “would be around for a long time,” they wrote.  “He  then held her hand, looked straight into her eyes and gently said, ‘Don’t  worry, I will not let them stop the treatments you need.’ She was very  angry at us for the discussion that had just taken place… She was never able to accept that  she was dying because Fata convinced her she was not.  We never had the  benefit of the final conversation we should have been able to have, to say the things we wanted to say.”

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Fata's criminal forfeiture includes, according to court records: rights to $1,035,304.61 from a Cor Clearing bank account in the name of Farid Fata Michigan Hematology Oncology, P.C. Cash Pension Plan; 553,513.52 from Cor Clearing in the name of Nohad Fata-Malkoum; $3,486,024.58 from Cor Clearing in the name of Fatogemar Enterprises LLC; $221,547.34 from Huntington National Bank in the name of United Diagnostics PLLC; $31,918.87 from Huntington National Bank, in the name of Michigan Radiation Institute; $46,254.01 from Huntington National Bank in the name of Midwest Institute of Professionals; $72,745.70 from Huntington National Bank in the name of Swan For Life Foundation; $243,044.02 from Huntington National Bank in the name of Vital Pharmacare; $159,031.55 from JP Morgan Chase Bank in the name of Swan For Life Foundation; $3,049,304.01 from Huntington National Bank, held in the name of Michigan Hematology-Oncology; $136,815.23 from JP Morgan Chase Bank held in the name of Michigan Hematology-Oncology; $687,144.10  from Bank of America Account held in the name of Michigan Hematology Oncology;  $264,566.07 from Huntington National Bank Account held in the name of Swan for Life Foundation; $30,388.93  from CIG Corp. held in the name of Swan for Life Foundation; $3,228.56 from COR Clearing Account, held in the name of Fata Family Foundation; $161,315.06 from COR Clearing Account  held in the name of Nohad Fata and Farid Fata; and also all net proceeds resulting from the sale of the property at 5800 Bow Pointe Drive, Clarkston, Michigan, and at 6143 Sashabaw Road, Clarkston, Michigan worth approximately $1,442,232.04.

Twitter: @AnthonyBrino

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