Doc who gave fake cancer diagnoses sentenced to 45 years in prison

'A huge, horrific series of criminal acts'

A federal judge on Friday sentenced Farid Fata to 45 years in federal prison for a fraud scheme that involved prescribing unnecessary cancer treatments to more than 550 patients.

Prosecutors had sought a 175-year sentence for the 50-year-old Michigan doctor.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said at the sentencing hearing that Fata committed "a huge, horrific series of criminal acts" and "practiced greed and shut down whatever compassion he had."

Details of Fata's crimes

Fata, founder of the Rochester Hill-based Michigan Hematology Centers, was charged with 29 counts of health care fraud, conspiracy, and other crimes as part of a Medicare fraud scheme that was worth as much as $35 million. He pleaded guilty last September to 13 counts of health care fraud, two counts of money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks.

Specifically, Fata was accused of submitting fraudulent claims for chemotherapy treatments, PET scans, and several cancer and hematology treatments on behalf of cancer patients who did not require them.

Over a two-year period, Fata oversaw about $35 million in Medicare billings, and prosecutors alleged that he falsified documents and ordered others to do the same. Fata was personally responsible for about $25 million of the Medicare claims submitted by the centers. According to FBI agent Brian Fairweather, that's "more than any hematologist/oncologist in the state of Michigan during that time period."

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says, "The idea that a doctor would lie to a patient just to make money is shocking ... Dr. Fata was unique in that he saw patients not as people to heal, but as commodities to exploit." McQuade has called the scheme "the most egregious" one that her office has investigated

How he did it

To justify the false claims, the FBI alleges that Fata misdiagnosed patients with cancer to justify cancer treatment, administered chemo to patients who had gone into remission, and ordered chemo for end-of-life patients who would not benefit from the drugs.

Meet the doctor who exposed Fata

Authorities also contend that Fata required patients who had other serious medical conditions that required immediate medical treatment to receive their chemotherapy before going to the hospital. In one case, a patient fell and hit his head, but Fata allegedly pushed him to receive his chemotherapy treatment before leaving for the hospital. The patient subsequently died from the head injury.

When delivering his guilty plea in court, Fata admitted, "It is my choice. I knew that it was medically unnecessary."

Over the past week, 22 victims spoke about their experiences with Fata during his sentencing hearing. One individual lost his teeth after undergoing chemotherapy he didn't need, while another patient was diagnosed with lung cancer, when he had kidney cancer (Allen, Detroit Free Press, 7/10; Schecter et al., NBC News, 7/6).

How hospitals can prevent fraud (and address fraud allegations)

Health care fraud—from Fata's case to a hospital president who ran a $158 million fraud scheme—is unfortunately common across the industry.

And whether they involve top executives or low-level employees, fraud allegations can bring costly lawsuits and a hit to the reputation of any a health care organization.

The Daily Briefing's Clare Rizer sat down with attorney Lisa Gingerich of von Briesen & Roper, s.c. to identify ways that hospitals and physician practices can prevent fraudulent acts from occurring in medical settings or how to nip them in the bud before they become large-scale issues.

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