Rossen Reports

Cancer doctor gave needless chemo in $35M fraud, prosecutors say

Aug. 14, 2013 at 7:34 AM ET

Video: Investigators say a doctor in Michigan has been telling people they have cancer, even when they didn’t, and then giving them chemotherapy as part of an alleged $35 million Medicare fraud. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports.

Investigators say a popular doctor in Michigan with more than thousand patients was telling people they had cancer even when they didn't, then treating them, all for the money. Prosecutors say he was giving chemotherapy to people who didn't need it, some of whom didn't have cancer at all, as part of an alleged $35 million fraud.

Dr. Farid Fata, a trusted oncologist, preyed on patients to pad his pockets, prosecutors say. Just last week the FBI hauled evidence from his offices in upscale Michigan neighborhoods. The charges against Fata are disturbing: "deliberate misdiagnosis of patients as having cancer," giving "unnecessary chemotherapy," even to "end-of-life patients who will not benefit."

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"If he did commit these crimes, then I think the word 'monster' is a very good description for him," said Jeff Berz, who fears his father, Milton, suffered under Fata's care, prescribed chemotherapy for leukemia. Even as his father's health got worse, Berz said, Fata wouldn't stop chemo, and went to great lengths to administer it.

"My dad would often arrive at Dr. Fata's office, where there was a parking garage, and one of the staff would come out and actually administer the therapy session in my father's car while he's sitting out in the parking garage," Berz said.

Months later, Milton Berz died. Now his son has reached out to prosecutors. "I hate to think that my father was either hurt or had his life shortened by this man if it wasn't necessary," Berz said.

Prosecutors say Fata was motivated by money, billing Medicare for false claims, all the while living in a lavish mansion in a ritzy suburb. Federal agents have been there, searching his home for evidence.

His wife, the company's chief financial officer, wouldn't speak. But Fata's defense lawyer did, saying his client is innocent. "They're allegations only and they're unsupported factually and legally at this particular point," said Christopher Andreoff, Fata's lawyer.

Fata's company is now accused of defrauding the government and taxpayers out of $35 million in false claims. Officials say healthcare fraud is a growing problem.

"It not only affects the patients who are sometimes put in harm's way, but also the taxpayers," said Gary Cantrell, deputy inspector for investigations in the U.S. Office of Inspector General. "All of us are contributing to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and these are the dollars that are going out the door as a result of the greed of a few providers."

Fata is now in jail on $9 million bond, the judge calling him a flight risk. Experts say this is a good reminder to always be alert at the doctor's office. They advise that you always get hard copies of your medical records and make sure to look them over. If you get a serious diagnosis like cancer, get a second opinion and bring those records with you.

If you suspect wrongdoing or Medicare fraud, report it. You can do that by clicking here.

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