For seven years, a Michigan oncologist administered unnecessary chemotherapy, cancer medications and infusion drugs to hundreds of patients based on false diagnoses to increase his billings and enrich himself by submitting $34 million in fraudulent Medicare and private insurance claims.
Tipped off about this egregious conduct by a whistleblower in 2013, the Detroit Medicare Fraud Strike Force moved quickly to investigate and arrest Dr. Farid Fata, and to assist the patients in what has been described as one of the largest and most heinous health care frauds in U.S. history.
The core leaders of the strike force responsible for bringing Fata to justice were FBI Special Agent Bryan Drake and Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General Special Agent Abhijit Dixit, who jointly led the health care fraud investigation; Department of Justice attorney Catherine Kuo Dick, who headed the prosecution; and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent Kevin Nalu, who conducted the financial investigation that uncovered money laundering.
Each of the team members brought a special skill to the probe, working seamlessly to gather evidence, build an ironclad case and quickly stop the doctor from harming additional patients. In 2014, Fata pled guilty to charges of health care fraud, conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks and money laundering, and in 2015 he was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison.
“This case showed how aggressively law enforcement pursues people who are out to harm others, whether it is financially or physically,” said Eric Newburg, an FBI supervisory agent. He said the hard work done by the core investigative team “represents the highest levels of dedication to public service and what public service is intended to embody.”
At the time of sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said Fata, driven by greed, “callously violated his patients’ trust as he used false cancer diagnoses and unwarranted and dangerous treatments as tools to steal millions of dollars from Medicare, even stooping to profit from the last days of some patients’ lives.”
The strike force learned of the allegations on a Friday afternoon in 2013. Because of the possibility that hundreds of patients were in danger, the group worked around the clock through the next four days to verify the charges and secure Fata’s arrest before he could inflict further harm when his infusion centers reopened on Tuesday morning
This involved sending out eight teams of agents on a Monday night to interview Fata’s key office and medical staff individually, and simultaneously, to avoid possible collusion. From information gathered throughout the weekend and on that night, Dick, the team’s attorney, worked with agents to draw up affidavits and warrants and at 4 a.m. Tuesday, Drake raced to a magistrate’s house near downtown Ann Arbor to secure an arrest warrant and six search warrants.
“We were going lights and sirens all the way there,” Drake said.
The magistrate reviewed the material and signed the warrants while still in his pajamas. Drake then sped off to Fata’s home to arrest him before he could leave for another day’s work at his cancer treatment clinics.
“Many say that health care fraud is a victimless crime, but in this case, it certainly was not,” said Dixit, referring to patients who died or who lost limbs, suffered permanent nerve damage or had their health seriously compromised by Fata’s unnecessary medical treatments.
FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Maureen Reddy said one victim lost teeth and his bones were degenerating due to Fata’s unnecessary treatments. In another case, she said, one of the patients fell and hit his head in Fata’s parking lot, and instead of immediately calling an ambulance, the physician administered an unnecessary infusion treatment so he could bill the patient and Medicare. The patient eventually died from his injuries, she said.
Some patients had to mortgage their homes, drain their retirement accounts or go into debt to pay for what turned out to be unnecessary treatments.
Immediately after Fata’s arrest, the strike force set up a process to ensure thousands of patients received their medical records so they could seek legitimate medical care.
“The team devised an innovative process for copying and distributing patient files that had never been done before in federal law enforcement,” said Newburg, noting that the FBI has since adopted the process as the model for all large scale patient-harm cases.
The team also helped the patients in other ways. “When you are sitting across the table from patients telling them what has happened and listening to their stories, you become a person they trust and that they turn to you for information and advice,” said Dixit. “We tried to remain as accessible as possible to the victims.”
Newburg said the team set up town hall meetings and Internet sites to keep victims informed about the investigation, and to collect evidence to prove the severity and magnitude of the crime.
“support and respect shown to the victims by this team was instrumental in working to successfully convict Fata,” said Newburg.