After 5 years, cancer doc's victims say 'it's time to pay up'
Victims of convicted doctor Farid Fata say they've waited long enough to be compensated for the damage he inflicted by giving them chemotherapy they didn't need.
But nearly five years after Fata was convicted, a recent court ruling means an additional delay in disbursing money from a fund for the cancer doctor's former patients, and his victims and their loved ones are furious.
"I think it has been delayed long enough," said Geraldine Smith Parkin of Davison, whose husband, Tim, received excessive chemo treatments from Fata. "It's time to pay up so some of the victims can put it behind them (and) move on."
Parkin, who organized a support group for former patients and their families, said there's no valid reason Fata's victims have to keep waiting. "The money is there," she said. "So let's get it divided up (and) in the mail to all these victims."
Fata, 54, of Oakland Township was sentenced to 45 years in prison in July 2015 for bilking Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Medicare of about $34 million by prescribing chemotherapy to cancer-free patients while over-medicating others at his five hematology and oncology clinicsthroughout Metro Detroit.
Nearly a year later, a $12 million fund was set up with money and other assets forfeited by Fata to cover victims' co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses and funeral costs. Ten percent of the fund went to the whistle-blower in the case.
Since then, Fata's former patients and their family members have faced repeated delays in accessing money from the fund, with some applicants being rejected.
Last month, yet another legal hold-up surfaced when U.S. District Judge Paul Borman signed an amended order regarding a $26.4 million restitution judgment that would include funds to reimburse insurance companies for patients' medical expenses. That followed a request by the government in March for approval of $4.22 million in payments for individual victims.
In his ruling, Borman ordered that a final victim list presented by the U.S. government be approved and prohibited the disbursement of "any funds to the victims until further order of the Court."
The Parkins and other families say the order further slows their efforts to recover financially and emotionally. Tim Parkin, for instance, last worked as a truck driver in 2015 and remains on disability.
The Parkins are among several hundred people waiting to be paid from the restitution fund, which received applications from 700 victims and relatives. A statementfrom a support groupfor Fata victims and family members expressed anger at the situation.
"There is a hold up and we aren't sure what the cause is," the statement reads. "Mrs. Fata had put in a claim on the money too. She wants money for the kids education and to help support her special needs child. Just another Stab in the wound."
Cynthia Siwiecki, whose husband, Jim, died at age 55 in 2011 after being treated by Fata, said the delay in receiving restitution is wearing on her.
"I think it's horrible that we have to wait so long," said Siwiecki, a former Oakland County resident who lives in Florida. "My husband had colon cancer, he suffered for a year of chemo — even taking a bag treatment home — (and) I found out later from a radiologist that he could have had surgery. Fata was just using him for the chemotherapy money."
Federal prosecutors say Borman's ruling is part of the procedure to establish the payment process.
"We reached a significant milestone on April 2 when the Court entered an Order and an Amended Judgement which approved of and finalized the precise amount to be paid to each eligible victim," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement.
"With this Order and Judgment in place, we are now working on the complicated procedure regarding how checks will be issued from the numerous and varied sources and funds available to pay restitution."
Schneider concluded: "As always, we are working diligently on this process and, once again, we can assure the victims that we are working as quickly as possible.”
Arnold Reed, a prominent Metro Detroit attorney who is not involved in the case, said he is "not surprised" by the court's actions.
"It's a good thing the judge is taking (his) time and being very judicious," he said. "(The process) is not that cut and dry when you have that many victims."
Reed added that the federal courts are "never as quick" as state courts."I imagine they have to sift through each and every claim," he said.
Borman's ruling comes as Fata is seeking to have his 2014 conviction dismissed. The former oncologist argued in a legal filing in May 2018 that he only pleaded guilty because his attorney, Christopher Andreoff, told him it would lead to a lighter sentence.
In March, a federal judge agreed to hear Fata's request for a new trial.
"Andreoff advised that he would be able to secure a sentence of 20 years as opposed to the life sentence that government was seeking," Fata wrote in his legal pleadings.
In a response, Andreoff denied telling Fata that he could get him a 20-year sentence and that the doctor wasn’t reluctant to plead guilty.
Fata is scheduled for a hearing on his request for a new trial at 10 a.m. July 30 at the U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor. The issue of the restitution and the victims' fund will not be addressed during that hearing, federal prosecutors said.
Siwiecki, meanwhile, says the drawn-out legal proceedings mean victims and family members can't put the trauma of Fata's crimes behind them.
"This wait even extends the suffering because there is no closure," she said, "and it seems never-ending."