Victims line up for cancer doctor's sentencing

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

Geraldine Parkin will face cancer doctor Farid Fata in Detroit federal court on Monday morning, as she and 24 other victims or family members of victims prepare to make statements as part of the cancer doctor's sentencing hearing.

"For me, I want the pleasure of looking him in the eye," says Parkin, who says her husband, Tim Parkin, is largely disabled as a result of his treatment. Fata once looked into her eyes and those of her adult children, insisting that her husband needed chemotherapy. Now she is ready to respond.

"I want to say to him, 'You gave us a life of the unknown, of misery, and now you're going to have a life behind bars.' "

The hearing, which is expected to last all week, likely will conclude with Judge Paul D. Borman sentencing Fata, who faces life in prison for his crimes. About 150 victims filed victim impact statements with the court.

Fata's north Oakland County cancer treatment empire collapsed after his arrest two years ago. He pleaded guilty to 16 counts of fraud in September.

But fraud doesn't accurately describe Fata's crimes, victims and former associates say, and victims are being allowed to speak in open court. While that's common in other kinds of criminal trials, it's unusual in a sentencing proceeding for victims of Medicare fraud.

In this case, though, some of Fata's patients were given chemotherapy treatments, some for years, after false or inflated cancer diagnoses by Fata. Many others were treated, and billed for, drugs on schedules designed for profitability rather than therapeutic value. The government has estimated there are at leat 550 people who were victimized by the doctor.

"Whether they were cancer or non-cancer patients, solid tumor or liquid, Fata did not discriminate: his ultimate goal was to maximize his profit on the backs of his patients," federal prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum.

Fata has been compared by government lawyers to financial fraudster Bernard Madoff for the brazen scope of his crimes and his willingness to prey on those who trusted him. At least two expert medical witnesses for the government are scheduled to testify during the sentencing hearing. An expert for the defense who reviewed some of Fata's cases defended the treatment of 17 out of 20 cases — but could not defend the rest.

About 40 members of the victims' group are traveling to the courthouse in a chartered bus, wearing special T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with the slogan "Army of One," united in their quest for justice and their shared experience. Speakers are allotted 10 minutes each to make their statements.

But beyond the hearing, complex issues of compensation for the victims remain. About 40 lawsuits are pending in Oakland County Circuit Court. Borman will hold a restitution hearing at least 90 days after Fata's sentencing to adjudicate the distribution of assets. The government has claimed Medicare is owed $34 million.

In addition to Medicare and former patients, private insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, and a former employee turned whistle-blower have a financial stake in the outcome.

Compensation even for the most devastated victims is not clear-cut. Some couldn't file lawsuits because the statute of limitations had expired by the time Fata was arrested, says Donna MacKenzie, of Olsman Mueller Wallace & MacKenzie, a Ferndale law firm handling 13 cases against Fata and his practice. Many others who were harmed were turned away, for various reasons, because of the cost of litigating their claims.

Brian McKeen, who represents other former patients, says Fata's practice was "drastically under-insured" for a total of $3.6 million. Victims say they've been told the government has recovered about $10 million in assets.

"I'm on a mission to make the public realize how heavily the justice system is skewed toward providers and against the plaintiffs, the victims," he said. "Nobody cares about victim's rights until they become a victim."

Fata's arrest was triggered two years ago, on August 2, 2013, when the clinic's practice business manager, George Karadsheh, notified the FBI of Fata's potential crimes. On Aug. 5, 2013, Karadsheh officially filed a so-called qui tam or whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court. The FBI then interviewed Dr. Soe Maunglay, an oncologist at the clinic who had reported his concerns to Karadsheh. Fata was arrested the following morning.

Karadsheh's identity became public June 10, when a Detroit News article named him as the Fata practice insider who first called the FBI. The government subsequently unsealed the lawsuit.

"I've handled a lot of Medicare fraud but this is unspeakable," says David Haron, Karadsheh's lawyer. "Mr. Karadsheh has incredible concern for the patients. He lost his job but they lost so much more."

Parkin, the wife of a victim, knows her family will never regain what they have lost. "For us, the hearing is important because we don't want this to go down in history as fraud," she says. "We want it to go down as murder."

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