Surprise guilty plea for Oakland Twp. cancer doctor over false treatments, fraud
Detroit – — Liz Lupo came to federal court Tuesday expecting to hear last-minute procedural details before the start of the trial of the physician she says gave her mother too much chemotherapy, causing her death seven years ago.
Instead, Lupo and other family members of former patients of Dr. Farid Fata were shocked by the surprise guilty plea from the popular oncologist and his admission he ordered “medically unnecessary” chemotherapy for patients at his medical practices throughout Metro Detroit.
Fata, a 49-year-old Oakland Township resident, was accused in August 2013 by federal authorities of giving chemotherapy to patients who didn’t have cancer as part of an alleged scheme to bilk millions out of Medicare. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to give or receive kickbacks.
“It is my choice,” he said in U.S. District Court, as he pleaded guilty to 16 counts.
Lupo, whose mother, Marianne, died of lung cancer in 2007, was disappointed with Tuesday’s plea. Fata, she says, prescribed so much chemotherapy that it shocked emergency room doctors who saw her mother as she fell terminally ill under Fata’s care.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said outside court. “He (pleaded) guilty to a handful of patients when there were thousands. We wanted to hear the details about how he was allowed to (do this) and how this was allowed to continue.”
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who was in the courtroom when Fata entered his guilty plea, said “this was one of the most egregious crimes I’ve ever seen.”
She added Fata “tortured” patients with unnecessary cancer treatments for financial gain.
“He administered chemotherapy to people needlessly so he could make money off them,” McQuade said.
Fata faces up to 175 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the health care fraud counts and up to 20 years and a $500,000 fine for money laundering. He also faces fines on his admission he solicited kickbacks from Guardian Angel Hospice and Guardian Angel Home Health Care for referring patients to the facilities.
McQuade added her office will be “seeking a life sentence” when Fata is sentenced early next year. She said the plea covers 10 cases but patients say they believe there are hundreds more.
Fata’s attorneys did not comment on his guilty plea.
Wearing a red Wayne County Jail two-piece jumpsuit, Fata read aloud his admissions as he stood before U.S. District Judge Paul Borman. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Feb. 23.
His plea came on the final day of pretrial motions before his trial was scheduled to start Oct. 14.
The hearing was expected to address a request by Fata’s lawyers who were to ask the judge to stop federal prosecutors from presenting Fata emails to point out his alleged plot to carry out his crimes and emails about spending some of the money he made on a $3 million seaside castle in Lebanon, where he’s from. Instead, the hearing was dedicated to the guilty plea.
A new trial date on the remaining six counts of healthcare fraud is March 16.
Lupo said Fata treated her mother with a large amount of chemotherapy and that he told her mother her tumors were shrinking “when in fact they were growing.”
“Everybody was telling my mom, ‘the chemotherapy is killing you,’ ” said Lupo Tuesday.
Cynthia Burt, whose sister, Karen, was a Fata patient who died of large B-Cell lymphoma in December 2011, said, “while I’m glad he’s convicted ... he needs life.”
But, Burt said, “the patients and family members are not going get the answers they seek.” Like Lupo, Burt said she was “shocked” by Fata’s guilty plea.
“I feel sorry we are not going to hear the entire story,” said Burt, a Royal Oak resident.
Angela Swantek is the nurse who first complained about Fata in 2010. She said she was not surprised with Fata’s guilty pleas. “I wondered how his team was going to defend him,” she said. “(Medical) charts don’t lie.”
Swantek, a veteran oncology nurse, interviewed for a job as a nurse with Fata’s clinics, when she said she noticed questionable chemotherapy practices. She said she then contacted the state about her concerns.
Swantek said she’s still angry at the state for not moving on her complaints about Fata four years earlier.
“I handed Dr. Fata to them on a platter and they did nothing,” she said.
The families and former patients whose cases made up the criminal case will meet with McQuade at 3 p.m. Wednesday about Fata’s guilty plea and the next step in the case.
Fata has been in federal custody at the prison in Milan since August 2013 after federal agents raided his five Michigan hematology-oncology clinics and his Oakland Township home.
Federal investigators say Fata committed health care fraud and other related offenses from August 2007 through July 2013, which included administering chemotherapy to patients who did not need the treatment.
According to the criminal complaint, Fata submitted about $225 million in claims to Medicare, of which $190 million was for chemotherapy or other cancer drugs over six years. Of the $225 million in claims,, the federal government paid Fata $91 million. The federal government also paid Fata about $48 million for claims for chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.