Patients await ruling in cancer doctor’s restitution

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

It’s been more than six years since Robert Sobieray met Farid Fata.

Soon after, the Oakland Township doctor began ordering treatments for cancer Sobieray didn’t have.

The treatments not only brought Sobieray a lot of fear and anxiety but they also caused all of his teeth to fall out, leaving him nearly emaciated.

“I haven’t had a good meal in three years now,” Sobieray said Wednesday. He has set up a GoFundMe page to raise $20,000 for extensive dental surgery and dentures to fill his empty mouth.

Sobieray is among the former patients and their family members who plan to attend a restitution hearing Thursday in federal court. Fata bilked Medicare and Blue Cross out of millions in an elaborate insurance fraud after prescribing needless chemotherapy and other treatments for at least 553 of his patients, none of whom had cancer.

He pleaded guilty in September 2014 to 16 counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to give or receive kickbacks. At his sentencing in July to 45 years in prison U.S. District Judge Paul Borman called the doctor’s crimes “a huge, horrific series of criminal acts.”

Former Fata patients will be the priority in receiving restitution from his $17.6 million in forfeited funds.

Federal prosecutors and Fata’s defense attorneys agreed 553 patients may have been the victims of his medical mistreatment, but there could be more. Fata’s clinics, Michigan Hematology and Oncology, in seven Metro cities treated about 1,700 patients.

After Fata, 50, was arrested in August 2013, Sobieray, a 63-year-old autoworker from Milford, was told by another doctor he didn’t have cancer.

“(Fata) told me I had cancer,” Sobieray said Wednesday, adding he was treated with the drug Zometa, which had side effects causing the destruction of his teeth and gum line. “I had nothing.”

He says he just wants to ask Fata: “Why? What did I ever do to you?”

Former patients who qualify for restitution will have to provide documentation and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses they incurred.

Sobieray said he doesn’t have all of his receipts and that he’s not able to pay all of his bills because he suffered financial difficulties due to being disabled from the treatments.

Jeff Berz, whose late father was treated by Fata, said he believes people such as Sobieray should be the top priority.

“These are the people who deserve to be compensated,” Berz said Tuesday, adding he’s not asking for any monetary amount at this point. Instead, Berz wants answers about when state of Michigan investigators found out about Fata and how long it took them to react to complaints about him.

Royal Oak resident Cindy Burk, who suspects her deceased 55-year-old sister was treated too aggressively for a terminal cancer she was not going to survive, says she hopes the government will take another look at the restitution plan.

“My concern is that there are few people who are gonna qualify if they have to provide receipts,” Burk said. “It’s been too long.”

Burk said a fund should be set up with some of the money forfeited by Fata to help former patients with expenses.

“They are going through a lot just to cope with what Fata has left them with,” Burk said Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, whose office received a tip about Fata, said the former cancer physician “pounced on every opportunity to use a patient’s body as a profit center.”

Federal prosecutors say Fata defrauded the federal government and insurers out of $34 million.

Sobieray says he’s been told by lawyers he can’t sue Fata because there is nothing to gain from it.

“There is no money to pay back anybody,” Sobieray said.

Fata is serving his sentence in a Salters, S.C., federal prison.