Cancer doc: I didn't understand guilty plea consequences

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Dr. Farid Fata, sentenced to 45 years in prison for one of the largest health care frauds in U.S. history, testified Tuesday he did not know the consequences of his admission of guilt in 2014.

Fata, of Oakland Township, is seeking to withdraw guilty pleas related to allegations he prescribed chemotherapy to patients who did not require it, including perfectly healthy people, and submitted $34 million in fraudulent charges for six years.

Farid Fata

He testified in U.S. District Court that he believed he would receive as much as 50% less jail time after providing federal officials with information about what he said was other health care fraud and national security issues.

Federal officials never expressed an interest in Fata’s statements.

Both of the defense lawyers who represented him from the time of his arrest in 2013 until he pleaded guilty testified Tuesday they not only fully advised him of the consequences of his admissions, they counseled him not to do it.

Christopher Andreoff, Fata’s first lawyer, testified he tried to defend his client, but found the evidence, including that presented by the doctor’s staff and expert witnesses his own client recommended, overwhelming.

At first, Andreoff said, he pursued plea negotiations. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office sought a guilty plea to the entire indictment against Fata and what Andreoff considered the equivalent of a life sentence for the 54-year-old hematologist and oncologist.

Fata made frequent admissions of guilt in private consultation, Andreoff testified.

Throughout, Andreoff said, he advised Fata that he should plead guilty only if resulted in a prison term of about 20 or 30 years.

Andreoff also testified he told Fata federal law enforcement officials would likely only help his cause if they were interested in his information.

But, once it became clear the government would not yield on a tough negotiation position of a long jail term, with the possibility of deportation, Andreoff testified he advised Fata to go to trial.

Mark Kriger, Fata’s second defense lawyer was brought on, Andreoff said, because of the complexity of the case. Kriger testified that he offered the doctor similar advice.

Both Andreoff and Kriger said the opposed the guilty plea because the federal government had not offered enough consideration in return, especially on the prison term.

“If you go to trial, you never know what will happen,” Kriger testified. “You could get a hung jury, and then try for a better plea agreement.”

Both Andreoff and Kriger testified they believed there was no chance of an acquittal. But the trial became a better option when prosecutors set tough terms for the guilty plea.

They testified that Fata ignored their advice.

In about an hour of testimony during which he burst into tears four times, Fata said the lawyers led him to believe that by pleading guilty and providing information to federal law enforcement officials, he would receive a lower sentence.

Fata testified, through sobs, that Andreoff “mentioned to me the judge will be lenient with me if you’ll plead guilty."

“When I pleaded guilty, I didn’t know that this was going to be fight over, after the plea.”

Fata made frequent admissions of guilt in private consultation, Andreoff testified.

Prosecutors introduced evidence that in 2015, Fata submitted a court filing with signatures of Andreoff and Kriger that were forged.

Andreoff testified that a purported study at the former Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Pointe cited by Fata as supporting his medical judgments in the case likely never occurred.

He said he and Kriger thought the information Fata submitted as a hospital study appeared to have been typed on the sort of typewriters they have in prisons.

As the assistant U.S. attorneys and federal agents entered the courtroom for the day, they were greeted with sustained applause from about 25 observers, including some of Fata’s victims.

“Dr. Fata, you’ve lied a lot during these proceedings, haven’t you?” assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Dick asked in her first question to the doctor in her cross-examination.

To laughter from the spectators, Fata testified, “It may be in your opinion. But I did not.”