DETROIT (AP) — Federal authorities charged a suburban Detroit doctor with fraud Tuesday, accusing him of deliberately misdiagnosing patients with cancer and ordering chemotherapy for others who were in remission or had no chance of surviving, all to reap millions from the Medicare program.
The criminal complaint quotes co-workers and former employees as saying dozens of people passed through the office each day, although Dr. Farid Fata spent less than five minutes with each patient and hired doctors who may not have been properly licensed to practice medicine.
In one case, a patient fell and hit his head at Fata’s clinic but was told he needed chemotherapy before he could be taken to a hospital, according to the FBI. The man later died from the head injury. His name was not disclosed.
Fata, who lives in Oakland County, will be jailed at least until the next court hearing Thursday. The government wants to keep him locked up, fearing he may flee to Lebanon, his native country. But defense attorney Christopher Andreoff said Fata is a U.S. citizen who has been in this country for 20 years.
“He’s got three businesses going here,” Andreoff said in an interview.
As for the fraud allegations, they’re based so far on staff interviews at Fata’s Michigan Hematology Oncology Centers, not from patients, Andreoff said.
“It’s premature to say he’s harmed anybody,” the attorney said.
Fata owns Michigan Hematology Oncology, which has offices in Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills, Lapeer, Sterling Heights, Troy and Oak Park. The government says the clinics billed $35 million to Medicare over two years.
“Dr. Fata is responsible for approximately $24.3 million in drug infusions that he billed directly to Medicare, more than any hematologist/oncologist in the state of Michigan during that time period,” FBI agent Brian Fairweather wrote in the criminal complaint.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Kelly Fish recalled how Fata treated her mother, Patricia Schmidt, 63, who had lung cancer. Schmidt’s care doesn’t appear to be part of the criminal case, but Fish said she now “absolutely” wonders if financial gain from her mother’s insurer was a motive for more chemotherapy.
“Her condition dramatically deteriorated from taking the chemotherapy,” Fish, 44, said. “She was constantly vomiting. She couldn’t eat. She’d lost so much weight. He talked us into it based upon a chance it could prolong her life.”
In 2007, Schmidt of Rochester Hills died just weeks later from pneumonia, which her weakened immune system couldn’t fight, Fish said.
“I’ve been struggling with this all day,” she said.