After graduating from the Lebanese University College of Medicine in 1992, Farid Fata, MD traveled to the US, serving his residency at New York’s prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. By any measure, Fata was a rising medical star, an American success story in-the-flesh. True to form, he eventually built a network of respected cancer centers spanning 7 cities in Michigan. Fata oversaw the operation from his private clinic in the tony Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.
With success and prestige came money. Lots of it. At one point, Fata even looked into buying a $3 million castle in Adma, Lebanon. The oncologist even became a noted philanthropist, putting his considerable wealth to good use. His charity, Swan For Life, “offer[ed] coaching and support for those affected by cancer,” according to a 2010 press release published by the organization.
Farid Fata Made Millions Harming Cancer Patients
But what few of his employees or patients knew was that Fata had made his wealth by intentionally mistreating patients. He pumped chemotherapy drugs into patients who didn’t have cancer. He over-treated cancer patients, forcing them through grueling treatment regimens that were completely unnecessary.
Fata gave patients over 9,000 unnecessary injections of Rituximab during his clinical career. The drug, which can dangerously impair immune system function, is usually given eight times for cases of aggressive lymphoma, according to the Daily Mail. Fata gave one of his patients 94 injections. To cover up the useless infusions, he went so far as to forge a medical article, after his arrest, in support of aggressive rituximab treatments. He dubbed it the “European” method, a revolutionary new therapy.
He even instructed dying patients to stay on chemotherapy, after recovery was medically impossible, robbing them of the chance to make peace with death. Not one to lose out on profit, Fata received kickbacks from hospice center for patient referrals.
By the end of their investigation, Justice Department prosecutors had discovered 533 patients bilked by Fata’s unconscionable actions. Anyway to profit was good enough for Fata, no matter the harm or suffering it caused. In total, the despicable doctor charged Medicare and private health insurers more than $34 million in fraudulent claims, lining his own pockets while bankrupting his patients.
Whistleblowers Help Bring Down “Monster Doc”
Many of Fata’s former patients say they were forced to re-mortgage their homes, or file for bankruptcy, just to keep up with the doctor’s recommendations. Meanwhile, Michigan Hematology Oncology, P.C., the sprawling practice Fata founded, grew to be the state’s largest private cancer treatment center by the time of his arrest. Employees, though, were beginning to question Fata’s practices.
It was the doctor’s inability to retain employees that tipped office manager George Karadsheh off to Fata’s wrongdoing. When Karadsheh heard that yet another oncologist was quitting, he cornered the doctor and asked why. The answer? Because Fata was giving chemotherapy to patients who didn’t need it. Karadsheh quickly turned to federal officials, contacting the US Department of Justice in 2013. Fata’s office was soon flooded with FBI agents, who arrested the doctor on August 6, 2013.
Justice, it appears, came rather late. In 2010, an oncology nurse had reported Fata’s strange treatment practices to Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). The agency says that it thoroughly investigated Fata, clearing him of all suspicions. But the nurse, Angela Swantek, says she was never contacted during the investigation, and her attempts to access LARA’s records have all been denied.
Behind Bars, Fata Still Faces Civil Liability
On July 10, 2015, Farid Fata was sentenced to 45 years in a federal prison. Before handing down the sentence, Judge Paul Borman told a packed courtroom that Fata hadn’t practiced oncology, he’d “practiced greed[,] shut[ting] down whatever compassion he had.” Receiving the jail term at 50, it’s likely Fata will spend the rest of his life in prison.
But some of Fata’s victims weren’t happy with the result. Federal prosecutors agreed. They were seeking 175 years in prison, but Judge Borman didn’t go for such a lengthy sentence.
Speaking to the Detroit Free Press shortly after the sentencing hearing, Sydney Zaremba was convinced that Fata should have been put away for life. Zaremba’s mother, who died after being given excessive amounts of a chemotherapy support drug, was one of more than 550 patients to be mistreated by Fata. “Of course, everybody would want to see life,” her surviving daughter said. “Nobody wins in this situation. There will never be justice.”
All told, Fata earned over $17 million by mistreating his unsuspecting patients. While many of those people have since died, likely due to Fata’s unnecessary treatments, their families have filed more than 40 medical malpractice lawsuits against the incarcerated physician. His vast wealth, however, has been confiscated by the federal government. It’ll be a long, uphill battle for any of those survivors seeking compensation.