By: Robert Lowes
Farid Fata, MD, the oncologist who got rich administering excessive or unnecessary chemotherapy to hundreds of patients, including some who did not have cancer, was sentenced to 45 years in prison today by a federal judge in Detroit, Michigan.
The sentence came after the 50-year-old Dr Fata heard the judgement of patients and family members who testified earlier this week to the excruciating physical and psychological harm he caused.
One of them was Laura Stedtefelt, who said the oncologist had overtreated her late father for lung cancer to the point of killing him, according to an account in the Detroit Free Press. "I hate you," said Stedtefelt, addressing Dr Fata. "You are a monster. You are evil. You poisoned him. You tortured and murdered my dad."
Former patient Maggie Dorsey testified that Dr Fata deliberately misdiagnosed her with a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma and treated her with the chemotherapy agent bortezomib. She tearfully described living with the adverse effects, which include severe osteoporosis and neuropathy. "I have days where I cannot stand," the Detroit Free Press quoted Dorsey as saying. "Most nights, the pain is too great to allow me to sleep."
Still another patient said all his teeth but one fell out after Dr Fata administered zoledronic acid for multiple myeloma he never had. The excessive and unnecessary treatment, which went beyond chemotherapy, was part of a massive criminal scheme that netted at least $17 million from Medicare and private insurers, according to federal prosecutors.
It encompassed Dr Fata's oncology practice and its seven locations in suburban Detroit; a pharmacy, diagnostic testing center, and radiation treatment center he owned; and a sham charity he founded.The Lebanese-born Dr Fata called it his "kingdom" and "empire," prosecutors said.
The empire began to crumble after current and former employees informed federal investigators about what Dr Fata was doing. Arrested in August 2013, he pleaded guilty roughly a year later to 13 counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to receive kickbacks from a hospice and home healthcare agency.
The final tally of victims came to 553 patients. "It Is So Hard to Trust Doctors Now"
The most outrageous of Dr Fata's offenses was telling healthy patients they had multiple myeloma and other cancers. In addition to enduring needless chemotherapy, they suffered mental anguish at the thought of dying.Family members suffered, too. "From the beginning of his horrible diagnosis, which was presented to us as terminal,
I begin to feel a sense of hopelessness," the husband of one such patient said in a victim impact statement. "I'm going to lose my soul mate." Other patients of Dr Fata indeed had cancer, but how he treated them also crossed the line, said prosecutors. He routinely ordered lifetime "maintenance" doses of chemotherapy for patients in remission and kept patients with stage 4 cancer on chemotherapy to their deathbeds.
All the while, he routinely told patients that they had a 70% or more chance of remission, arousing false hope. Dr Fata also ordered antinausea drugs, iron infusions, human growth factor, and hydration for patients who did not need them. The length of drug infusions typically were stretched out to maximize revenue. Prosecutors said that when a nurse noted that an extra hour of a certain chemotherapy infusion yielded only $22, Dr Fata replied, "$22 over $22 over $22 is a lot of money."
The US Department of Justice asked the court to sentence Dr Fata to 175 years in prison. One of many aggravating factors it cited was the loss of faith in the medical profession his actions produced. "It is so hard to trust doctors now because of Dr Fata, and it will take a long time to trust again," one patient wrote in a victim impact statement. "I want him to know that my 10-year-old daughter sees him now on the news and I have to explain...why my doctor hurt people."
Dr Fata's lawyers sought a 25-year sentence.
They produced several patients earlier this week who praised the physician for his care and asked the court to be merciful. A weeping Dr Fata asked for mercy as well, according to news accounts of today's sentencing. "I misused my talents, yes, and permitted this sin to enter me because of power and greed," Dr Fata was quoted as saying. "My quest for power is self-destructive."
US District Judge Paul Borman called the 45-year prison term "a very significant sentence for very, very terrible conduct." "This is a huge, horrific series of criminal acts that were committed by the defendant," Borman was quoted as saying. Dr Fata, he said, "practiced greed and shut down whatever compassion he had."