Lawyers want limit on victim statements against Fata

Mark Hicks The Detroit News

Federal officials are challenging a request to limit how many victims can offer impact statements at the sentencing next week of a Metro Detroit oncologist who unnecessarily treated patients who were told they had cancer.

Lawyers for Dr. Farid Fata on Wednesday filed a brief in which they sought to quash the government’s attempt to include more than 100 victim impact statements, some of whom, they said, do not qualify as victims.

“Defendant ... move(s) this honorable court to strike all written and/or oral statements of ‘alleged’ victims who do not qualify as a victim” in part, the attorneys said, because only 10 patients have been identified in an indictment.

In their filing Thursday, federal officials argued the court is not required to find that “the relatives of patients and/or the patients are indeed victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. “All of the individuals who have submitted letters to the Court are former patients or family members of former patients of Dr. Farid Fata. ... As such they are individuals with knowledge of the defendant’s background, character and conduct.”

Sentencing for Fata is scheduled to start Monday. It’s expected to last at least a week in Detroit federal court before Judge Paul Borman.

Fata pleaded guilty in federal court in September to 16 counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to give or receive kickbacks. His plea covered 10 cases.

The once-popular oncologist with offices in Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills, Lapeer, Sterling Heights, Troy and Oak Park faces up to 175 years in prison, a $250,000 fine on the fraud counts and up to 20 years as well as a $500,000 fine for money laundering.

In an 86-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in May, prosecutors cited $34.7 million in fraudulent health care billings and Fata’s indifference for the well-being of his patients in demanding a lengthy sentence.

In a court filing Wednesday, Fata’s attorneys claim that although the government had received some 150 victim impact letters “involving another 100 or so patients or their relatives who were suffering from “solid” tumor cancers … two medical experts for defendant have verified that many of the solid tumor patients are not truly ‘victims’ ” as defined by law. The attorneys also say they’re “providing unreliable or inaccurate information to the Court,” according to the motion.

As a result, the court filing said, Fata is “requesting that in the absence of a finding that each of the patients identified in the 150 victim impact letters or who will speak in Court, are in fact ‘victims’ … or that their information is reliable and accurate, that this Court should strike those written statements, and not permit those relatives to speak in open Court.”

According to the response U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade submitted, while “information in some of the victims’ letters may not be perfectly accurate in every respect — memories fade, emotion colors interactions, grief overwhelms many of the family members. … this is true of virtually any statement submitted to the court by persons touched by a crime.”

Federal officials also said “given the scope of Fata’s indiscriminate mistreatment,” not every victim will be officially identified through the government’s investigation.

Additionally, the solid tumor patients’ statements should be considered since “the government’s two experts did review some of the files … and found highly problematic treatments,” federal officials said, citing a male “whose pancreatic cancer was massively overtreated by Fata,” receiving 260 weeks of chemotherapy instead of 24.

The request to strike victim statements was news to Angela Swantek, the nurse who first complained about Fata’s practices in 2010. “I think everybody was victimized in some sort of way, whether it was being on treatment for longer than they should have, getting medications that were not medically necessary,” she said. “They were victims of his greed.”

Those with ties to Fata’s affected patients say his case underscores a need for change.

“It’s all good and well that Farid Fata has pled guilty, but there must be accountability in the civil justice system,” attorney Brian McKeen, managing partner of Detroit-based firm McKeen & Associates, which is representing several victims in a civil suit, said in a statement.

“The scores of victims who suffered injury and the families of those who died because of Dr. Fata’s behavior deserve compensation. There must also be accountability on the part of the hospital and corporate institutions that allowed his behavior to go unchecked.”