A Detroit-area oncologist plead guilty Tuesday to putting patients through unnecessary chemotherapy as part of a $225 million Medicare fraud scheme, a Justice Department release announced.
Dr. Farid Fata owned and operated Michigan Hematology Oncology, a cancer treatment practice with seven locations throughout Michigan, as well as a diagnostic testing facility. For six years, Fata prescribed and administered “aggressive chemotherapy, cancer treatments, intravenous iron, and other infusion therapies to patients who did not need them in order to increase his billings to the Medicare program and other insurance companies,” the release explained. “Fata then submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and other insurers for these unnecessary treatments.”
In addition to knowingly misdiagnosing people with cancer and giving them dangerous treatments for it, he also sought kickbacks from nearby hospitals in exchange for patient referrals, and “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 PET [positron emission tomography] scans for which he billed a private insurer.” (RELATED: Cardiologist Indicted For Making Millions Performing Unnecessary Medical Procedures)
“At a time when they are most vulnerable and fearful, cancer patients put their lives in the hands of doctors and endure risky treatments at their recommendation,” said DOJ Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. “Dr. Fata today admitted he put greed before the health and safety of his patients, putting them through unnecessary chemotherapy and other treatments just so that he could collect additional millions from Medicare. The mere thought of what he did is chilling.”
Fata was arrested in August 2013 after a Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on his sprawling estate, seen below. Nurses and doctors who’d worked with him had informed the FBI of his shameful activities, which went beyond fraudulent billing and endangered patients’ lives. He would sometimes treat patients in offices instead of hospitals, and allowed what he called “interns” to treat them instead of properly licensed doctors. One medical assistant testified that Fata told her to falsify records, and that he’d intentionally delay tests and scans to ensure that they’d be done at his facilities.
“Fata submitted approximately $225 million in claims to Medicare between August 2007 and July 2013,” the DOJ said, and received back over $91 million.
Fata has been charged with 13 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks, and two counts of money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February and faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
Angela Swantek, a chemotherapy nurse who had first reported Fata in 2010, was relieved to hear the guilty plea, although frustrated that charges weren’t pressed until 2013. “I handed them Dr. Fata on a platter in 2010 and they did absolutely nothing,” she told the Detroit Free Press.
“Today’s plea is the culmination of the diligent investigative work jointly conducted by the FBI, IRS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and prosecutors to protect the public and ensure that justice is served,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Abbate. “Our hope is that this outcome offers some measure of solace to the victims and reassures the community of our collective resolve to prevent similar violations of patients’ trust.”