In a particularly offensive and harmful misuse of professional authority, a doctor in Detroit was sentenced earlier this month to 45 years in prison for defrauding insurance companies of millions of dollars and poisoning hundreds of patients with chemotherapy treatments when they didn’t even have cancer.
Those weren’t the only crimes committed by Dr. Farid Fata, whose sordid tale was recounted by the Detroit Free Press last week. Rather than helping terminal patients die peacefully, he ordered unnecessary treatments that prolonged their suffering. And rather than treating true cancer patients properly, he withheld appropriate treatments if he made more money doing that than by addressing their need.
He was arrested two years ago and last year he pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. His federal prison sentence reflects the violation of more than 550 patients’ trust and a more than $17 million haul from fraudulent billings. Federal prosecutors said it was the most egregious case of medical fraud they had ever seen.
“This is a huge, horrific series of criminal acts that were committed by the defendant,” the Free Press reported U.S. District Judge Paul Borman saying before sentencing Fata. The judge said the prominent oncologist “practiced greed and shut down whatever compassion he had.”
According to U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, “Chemotherapy, as you know, is poison. Dr. Fata gave poison to people who didn’t even have cancer … to make money.”
One of his victims was Kenneth Paul Loewen, who died last year at 62. He had esophageal cancer for which Fata started chemotherapy before he even healed from surgery. He also was prescribed Neulasta, a strong drug that proved to be unnecessary and made him sicker. Loewen was scheduled for eight radiation treatments one day after Fata was arrested; when he consulted different doctors, they told him he didn’t need radiation.
Testimony in the case included accounts of more than 20 victims who told heartbreaking stories. One healthy person underwent chemotherapy and lost nearly all of his teeth. One patient was diagnosed with lung cancer when he actually had kidney cancer. In some cases, Fata gave patients with no documented iron deficiencies overwhelming amounts of iron; sometimes, he gave patients lower-than-needed doses of chemotherapy drugs.
In court, Fata admitted his crimes. “In some cases,” the Free Press reported, “he gave nearly four times the recommended dosage amount of aggressive cancer drugs; in at least one, a patient was given toxic chemotherapy for five years when the standard treatment was six months, according to former patients and experts who testified in court this week.
‘I misused my talents … because of power and greed. My quest for power is self-destructive,’ Fata told the court before sentencing. He said he is ‘horribly ashamed of my conduct’ and prays for repentance.”
Fata’s criminal behavior was investigated thanks to an office manager-turned-whistleblower. Among the agencies involved in his prosecution were the FBI, IRS and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Although Fata is in jail and his medical license has been revoked, it may be difficult to find mercy for such a loathsome creature. But the survivors of some of his victims managed to do so. Sydney Zaremba’s mother died fewer than four months after Fata started chemotherapy for an early stage tumor in her neck that he overtreated with drugs. Still, Zaremba believed Fata was sincere.
“I actually cried,” she told the paper. “I had felt pity the first time I saw him come in in shackles.”