Medicine saves lives. Medical fraud, on the other hand, can kill. Or, at the very least, make victims very sick -- while also ripping them off of every last dollar. Such is the case of Michigan, U.S. doctor Farid Fata, who for years intentionally misdiagnosed patients and set them on a path of painful and expensive cancer treatments.
Appearing in federal court in Detroit, Fata was convicted of fraud and sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison. The tough sentence reflects the years of misery he heaped upon hundreds of patients – in all, prosecutors alleged that his fraudulent schemes netted him more than $17 million from 550 victims.
An article in USA Today highlighted the egregiousness of Fata’s conduct in a case that made international headlines:
Federal prosecutors call it the most egregious case of fraud they've ever seen.
"This is a huge, horrific series of criminal acts that were committed by the defendant," U.S. District Judge Paul Borman said before sentencing Fata, saying the once-prominent oncologist "practiced greed and shut down whatever compassion he had."
Borman, who sentenced Fata to 45 years total on multiple counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks, said the crimes called for "a very significant sentence for very, very terrible conduct."
The crimes committed by Fata arguably represent the worst end of the spectrum for healthcare fraud. More commonly, such fraud involves insurance schemes, faked injury claims, prescription drug scams and similar cases. They hurt caregivers and insurance companies alike, and raise prices for everyone. The only good side of those types of fraud are usually, nobody gets physically hurt.
But then there are cases like Fata’s. Similar doctor-orchestrated frauds, driven purely by greed, have led to painful, unnecessary surgeries. Some frauds have killed. Nearly 14 years ago, a cancer doctor named Robert Courtney diluted his patients’ chemotherapy drugs. Motivated by “pure greed,” prosecutors said, Courtney perpetrated his scheme against hundreds of patients, many of whom died while in his care.
For Fata’s patients, the swindle led them to take expensive and physically rigorous cancer treatments that, in many cases, have crippling side effects. It is possible that some of the victims, most of whom did not have cancer, will now have lingering health problems due to Fata’s treatments.
What is most scary is the fact that he might have been caught solely through chance. One of his patients broke her leg shortly after beginning one of his treatments. During the emergency, she was seen by other doctors – who could tell right away she did not have cancer. And so began the unraveling of one of the most disturbing frauds investigators have ever seen.