In the 2019 episode, the FBI is on to Farid Fata, an oncology doctor in Michigan who has been administering unnecessary cancer treatments in order to steal $34 million from Medicare. George, the practice’s office manager, has gathered enough evidence to bring the case to the authorities. It lands of the desk of Agent Drake during his first week with the FBI’s health care fraud team. Investigators are disgusted by what they find and work to bring Fata to justice.
Editor's note: This article was orginally published on April 12, 2019 and has been updated with new information.
[00:00:00] Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. For the past two weeks, we’ve been bringing you the story of Dr. Farid Fata. His thriving oncology practice in Michigan holds a dark secret. He’s been giving patients expensive chemotherapy treatments they don’t need. Sometimes even perfectly healthy patients–just to collect big Medicare checks. The story is so important, we dug it out from the archives. Where we left off, a young doctor, a new hire suspects something is wrong, very wrong, but doesn’t know how to stop the crime and he turns to office manager, George Karadsheh for help. Karadsheh is about to go to the FBI. Will they believe him? And now, the conclusion of our 3-part series: Dr. Rotten. Will Johnson is your host.
[00:00:53] Will Johnson: Welcome back to AARP - The Perfect Scam. And the third part of our three-part series on Dr. Farid Fata. We are joined this week once again by a champion in the world of bringing down Medicare and healthcare fraudsters, Peggy Pasado. Thanks for joining us once again.
[00:01:11] Peggy Pasado: Thank you, my pleasure.
[00:01:12] Will Johnson: Peggy, for many years was with the Department of Justice and a member of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force which sounds like serious business, and indeed it was, right, Peggy?
[00:01:21] Peggy Pasado: Yes, it was, it's very serious.
[00:01:23] Will Johnson: You were actually a nurse before you, you got into the world of taking down uh, bad guys.
[00:01:30] Peggy Pasado: Right. I did a pretty long career as a registered nurse in the hospital, then I took my nurse practitioner, I went on with that for a while, so I keep marching through careers.
[00:01:39] Will Johnson: Now, I wanted to ask you before we get into this, this final chapter of our story about Dr. Farid Fata. Why is it relatively easy for healthcare professionals to submit bogus claims to Medicare? It seems like that should be something that, that shouldn't be happening, right?
[00:01:52] Peggy Pasado: Well it seems, I, I said, there's a little story that I heard early... early on when I started doing this job, and it said, I'll repeat it as I wrote it. Medicare's a federal healthcare program funded by the Medicare Trust Fund, operative word, "trust." This is supported by your payroll taxes, general tax revenues and premiums. It has been quoted, and this was quoted by CMS, that the reason that it's so easy to submit claims is that the program was based on trust. Every day, 5 million claims are submitted to Medicare. If the provider information, the patient Medicare number, the beneficiary data, the data, the codes are on the claim form, it goes through. There is, the analysis starts immediately once it goes through. In essence, it's easy to submit because there's no mechanism in place to stop the claim from going through into the system.
[00:02:45] Will Johnson: Peggy, how can someone tell if, or detect if Medicare fraud's being done in their name and is there anything you can do about it?
[00:02:51] Peggy Pasado: It's, it's pretty difficult, but uh one of the things that I've said and, and done is be aware. Keep a notebook of who you saw, when you saw them, what was done, and where, and what kind of services or equipment did you receive? Keep that information in a notebook, and then when your explanation of benefits, your EOB or your Medicare summary notice comes in, you take that, and you compare it to what you wrote in your book. Okay? If the date's right, the doctor's right, the service is right, you're home free. But I think it's just a safety measure to kind of keep your, you know, keep an eye on it to make sure, and if you have a problem, report it to Medicare, 1-800-Medicare. I think that's about the only thing you can do.
[00:03:36] Will Johnson: It's uh, it's really important for listeners to understand, and also beware that the landscape of Medicare fraud is, is massive and uh treacherous, and this is uh one story that is certainly shocking and awful, but uh it's important to understand the, the bigger landscape.
[00:03:52] Peggy Pasado: It's impartial. Medicare fraud hits everything.
[00:03:54] Will Johnson: All right, Peggy Pasado, let's, without further ado, let's get into the third and final chapter of the story of Dr. Farid Fata, and, and we'll come back to you in, in just a bit to uh wrap up our story.
[00:04:04] Peggy Pasado: Okay.
[00:04:05] Will Johnson: Welcome back to the final episode of our three-part story about Dr. Farid Fata. The successful Michigan oncologist who is suspected by staff of giving chemotherapy and medication to patients who either don't need it, or don't even have cancer. For all the extra and unneeded treatments, Fata is milking the insurance companies for the money and making millions. As we learned last time, Fata's office manager, George Karadsheh, had enough evidence to make a case against Fata. He knows he has to do more than confront him. He decides to take his case to the FBI where it lands on the desk of Agent Bryan Drake. It's August 2013, and after 5½ years of working national security matters, it's Drake's first week working on the healthcare fraud team.
[00:04:48] Agent Drake: Thursday, which would have been uh August 1st, I got an email from my supervisor saying that there was somebody who wanted to come in with some information, um, to the US Attorney's Office, a qui tam relator which in laymen’s terms is a whistleblower, to come into the US Attorney's Office and provide us information that there's an oncologist in the area that was diagnosing people with cancer who did not have it, and giving them chemotherapy when they did not need it, along with other um, treatments that they did not need. And I read the email and it, it definitely alarmed me, and I went to my, my partner who was sitting next to me who ended up being my partner in the case on the FBI side, and I said to him, I'm like, "Does, does this sound right to you?" And he's like, oh, well we, we get these emails quite, quite often, then we have to go and, and sit with these folks who are qui tam relators or whistleblowers and usually 10 to 15 percent of what they say is accurate upon doing an investigation. So it's like, I, "I can't imagine that this is real. This sounds just so over the top."
[00:05:47] Will Johnson: On Friday morning at 10 a.m., they all go into a meeting, 12 people, attorneys from the US Attorney's Office, agents, the whistleblower, and his attorney. They spend two or three hours with George Karadsheh.
[00:05:58] Agent Drake: And as he began to speak, you know, for the first half hour, I mean our jaws were on the floor, like what? This, this can't be true.
[00:06:06] Will Johnson: Sarah Resnick Cohen is now Assistant United States Attorney in the Public Corruption Unit in Michigan. But at the time, she was Deputy Chief of the healthcare fraud unit.
[00:06:16] Sarah Cohen: During the meeting, an employee of Fata's office disclosed to prosecutors and agents in the room um, information suggesting that Fata was not only committing healthcare fraud, but he was potentially ending during the health and lives of a number of patients. The allegations were very serious, very disturbing.
[00:06:43] Will Johnson: For the next two or three hours, George Karadsheh continues to answer questions and provide evidence for those in the room.
[00:06:49] Agent Drake: He was able to provide us with either documentation or personal knowledge, or direct us to people who would have that personal knowledge and say, "Go interview this person, go talk to them, they'll tell you exactly the same thing. They either, they’re the ones who told me and saw this."
[00:07:01] Will Johnson: Karadsheh had been talking to nurses and doctors and others, but Dr. Maunglay's report is what convinced him. Drake asked his partners if this was at all normal.
[00:07:10] Agent Drake: My partner said to me, he was like, we walked out, and he goes, "Bryan, your life as you know it is over. This is going to change your life for the next couple of years." Um, and it did.
[00:07:24] Will Johnson: That turned out to be true.
[00:07:25] Agent Drake: 100%.
[00:07:26] Will Johnson: Barbara McQuade with the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, immediately heard from a member of her team who was at the meeting.
[00:07:33] Barbara McQuade: I got a call from one of our lawyers on a Friday afternoon who said that someone had come in and reported that there was a doctor who was administering chemotherapy treatments to patients who did not have cancer and lying to them about their diagnosis. He, and I, both thought that it was too far-fetched to be true, but we also took it seriously enough to believe that if it were true, we needed to act very quickly.
[00:07:55] Agent Drake: His next patient wasn't on 'till Tuesday uh morning, the August 6th, that I think 7:30 in the morning he was going to do a bone marrow biopsy at a hospital on a patient. And so, we knew that that was our deadline. We had to have our case pretty much, I don't want to say approved, but we had to get probable cause before then to stop him.
[00:08:14] Will Johnson: So you had Friday afternoon, the weekend, and Monday.
[00:08:16] Agent Drake: Yes.
[00:08:17] Will Johnson: Investigators had their work cut out for them. They were literally racing against time.
[00:08:22] Agent Drake: The oncologist that was uh working with, for us that first weekend was able to identify the practices that Fata was doing. He was like, "There's no justification for this in any way, shape, or form." Um, he's like, "I don't know how he's getting away with this. This guy is, is definitely wrong in the way he's practicing medicine."
[00:08:37] Will Johnson: But they needed more than the whistleblower and the expert. They interviewed all of the employees identified in the whistleblower report.
[00:08:43] Agent Drake: We went and did simultaneous um, interviews of all those employees because the whistleblower had told us, 'cause we had asked, I had asked in the interview, "Do these workers inside Dr. Fata's office, are they friendly with each other? Are they friends inside work? Are they friends outside work? Do they email each other? Do they text message each other?" And he said, "Yeah, they're all pretty gossipy." I'm like, okay, well then we can't go talk to one, 'cause in normal cases you do one interview at a time usually. In this case we couldn't do that because soon as one person was approached there was going to be a phone call to the next person.
[00:09:16] Will Johnson: Did you know much about his background or you know, where he was from or you know anything that might sort of paint a picture of who he was or why he did what he did? We might probably never understand that.
[00:09:26] Agent Drake: No, there was nothing glaring in his background at all that uh went to him doing this. We had no evidence of you know, childhood trauma or him being slighted by somebody or a company or another doctor or anything like that to, to where he would do this. Um, there was nothing at all that, that was like a, a uh, you know a breaking point for him, um, that I saw. I mean he was born and raised in Lebanon. He was educated there. Was a doctor in Lebanon, then came to the United States, and he went to a prestigious cancer institute to uh, to do his fellowship; Memorial-Sloan Kettering, which is, is a very reputable place.
[00:10:08] Will Johnson: Interviewers, agents, and attorneys compared notes and a complaint was written up late Monday night. An operational plan was going into effect as well, regarding how they'd apprehend Fata. Early Tuesday morning, around 4:30, they wake up a judge to get a warrant.
[00:10:21] Agent Drake: I'd always heard veterans talk about waking up a judge in the middle of the night in his pajamas; I never thought it would happen in my career, but it did in this case. Literally we were in the magistrate's home, in his family room, uh and he was signing the warrants in his pajamas. Um, which was something, I'm like, wow...
[00:10:38] Will Johnson: Something you read about or in a movie.
[00:10:39] Agent Drake: Yes. You don't, you don't experience it.
[00:10:42] Will Johnson: With a warrant in hand, agents race to catch Fata before he leaves for work.
[00:10:46] Agent Drake: So we finally get there, and they're calling him out. We're like a mile and a half away. They're calling him out from his house, and saying, "Yeah, he's getting into his car. He's, he's backing out of his driveway." I'm like, oh man, we're not going to make this. Uh, and so he starts to drive out. He runs the stop sign at his entrance. They pull him over, as they pull him over, I'm jumping out of the car. We raced into the parking lot. I was able to, I'm still throwing my vest on as I'm running in my suit from the day before, and I finally get it all zipped up and Velcroed up, and then I'm able to put the cuffs on him. 'Cause the, the agent that helped pull him out of the car said, "Who's the case agent?" I raised my hand, I'm like, "It's me." He pulls him over and I was able to put the cuffs on him and walk him away.
[00:11:25] Will Johnson: Drake tells Fata he's under arrest and takes him to his car.
[00:11:29] Agent Drake: He, like a lot of people, when you arrest them, they'll, they're nervous and they're shaking, they're trembling, and you can feel that. I didn't feel anything from this guy. He didn't seem, he seemed like, aloof is the best word to describe it. He didn't, he didn't come across as somebody who knew why we were there at all. After they asked him, "Why do you think you've been arrested?" And his response was, "I, I ran a stop sign. I think that's why I was arrested." And my partner from the FBI goes, "Do you think the FBI arrests people for running stop signs?"
[00:12:00] Will Johnson: That morning, across Fata's clinic locations, patients are turning up for treatments, but instead of business as usual, they find locked doors and signs. It's all part of a careful plan. The US Attorney's Office had reached out to other cancer centers across metro Detroit.
[00:12:14] Agent Drake: And asked them, "If you guys had influx of cancer patients, would you be able to take them at a moment's notice without an appointment, just have them come in as soon as possible? Would you guys be able to handle this?" And they said, "Yes."
[00:12:30] Will Johnson: And for many of Fata's patients, it was a day where they learned or start to discover they don't have the disease Fata diagnosed them with.
[00:12:37] Will Johnson: So, a life changing day, I bet, for, for some people. Or a lot of people. Or at least in the coming days and weeks as they found out results of new tests maybe.
[00:12:46] Agent Drake: Absolutely. Life-changing.
[00:12:48] Many of them had suffered permanent injuries like loss of teeth and organ damage and nerve damage that comes from being administered so much chemotherapy, you know, which is, which is essentially poison. A doctor makes a calculated decision that I'm going to give you this small dose of poison to kill the cancer cells. It'll kill your hair along the way and some other things, but in the end, you're going to be healthier because we’re going to get the cancer killed out of your system, we're going to stop the chemotherapy, and we hope you'll go on to have a healthy life. When you don't have cancer, it's just poison, and so it does cause some of these long-term problems and illnesses that people will never recover from.
[00:13:26] Will Johnson: Robert Soberay who we learned about on last week's episode was one of those patients. He'd been diagnosed by Dr. Fata and had been getting treatments for 2½ years. He remembers when he heard the news.
[00:13:38] Robert Soberay: The day he got arrested, they just the noon news come on, and I was sitting at the desk doing different odd stuff, and my wife says, "Are you watching the news?" I go, "No. I've got it on TBN." She goes, "Well here, you gotta come see this." Well that's when they show he got arrested that morning. The uh FBI went in and grabbed all his uh offices and stuff and arrested him for fraud. That's all we heard. I was, wow, okay. Well about two hours later I get a phone call from the FBI. And they told me what was going on then, that he got arrested for fraud, and they got my records, and they wanted to talk to me some more. They wanted to come out here and talk to me in person. The Department of Justice and the FBI. So I said, okay. So we, we talked, and they come out and we talked again, but uh, I, I just... it's hard to explain.
[00:14:38] Will Johnson: Robert still has a hard time talking about it. His life, his job, his finances, his wife and her job, years of painful treatment and hundreds of hours of treatments, his life had been up-ended. He went to see a new oncologist.
[00:14:51] Robert Soberay: He looked at two biopsies I had done, and he come back and says, "There's nothing wrong with you. You don't have anything wrong with you. You definitely don't have cancer." And my wife and I just about feel to the ground. It was like, you know, a big relief off you, but it's also a big shock, like, 'cause you hit, like you, hell I just did all these injections. What, what's going to happen to me now? My wife, first thing my wife asked was, "What about all those injections? What's going to happen? Is that causing all your teeth to fall out?" And that's when this doctor, the other doctor told me, "Yeah," he goes, "that's what's happening."
[00:15:25] Will Johnson: Robert's doctor confirmed that the cancer treatments were wreaking havoc on his body.
[00:15:30] Robert Soberay: He goes, "That's why you start feeling like you are." He goes, "Whatever they gave you, is doing you in."
[00:15:35] Will Johnson: For someone without the disease, the years of treatments had taken their toll, and Robert's recovery was just beginning. Going off the meds was just as bad, or worse.
[00:15:45] Robert Soberay: I thought I was going to die. I was looking forward to it, just you know take me out, please. I hurt, I, I was sick. I couldn't keep nothing down. My wife and just, well she hung in there and stayed with me and it started to clear up then. I mean well I didn't have that much pain, that wasn't, the sickness was starting to go away. And then, the infectious doctor, the infectious disease doctor says, he goes, "Well, yeah, it must be working out of you." He goes, "Whatever is in your system is going out, now, so you're starting to feel a little better." I goes, "Well I ever be better than I was?" He goes, "No. You'll never be like you were."
[00:16:20] Will Johnson: The horrific truth was finally coming out. Sarah Cohen with the US Attorney's Office.
[00:16:24] Sarah Cohen: Even if one of his patients had, for example, stage 4 lung cancer and the prognosis for an ordinary oncologist would have been say your good-byes, let's admit you to hospice, let's make you as comfortable as possible, um, until the end of your life, Fata wouldn't do that. He would give false hopes to the patients and to their families and promise them a cure, um, while administering um, very high levels of chemotherapy which obviously carry um, really significant side effects.
[00:17:05] Will Johnson: Barbara McQuade with the US Attorney's Office.
[00:17:07] Barbara McQuade: One of the things that Dr. Fata did, and it is a, a technique that you see many people engaged in fraud schemes to, and that is he would not allow anyone else to see his patients. And you'll see this with people who cook books and other things, only they can look at it, they never take a vacation, all of these kinds of things, because they don't want anyone else to scrutinize their work because they might discover their fraud. And what's interesting about Dr. Fata is he was so greedy that he didn't just overprescribe, in some instances, he under prescribed. There were some patients who would need say a vial and a quarter of chemotherapy who truly had cancer. But instead, he would tell his nurses not to bother opening that second vial, because it's such a waste. Once you open it, you can't use it on someone else, let's hold back on that one and just give him the one vial and we'll, we'll say we gave him one and a quarter.
[00:17:55] Will Johnson: Many of the patients who went to see Fata probably had very little wrong with them.
[00:17:59] Barbara McQuade: You know, he would say, "I'm sorry to tell you that you have cancer, and uh we need to begin chemotherapy treatments right away." You know, for people who might have benefited simply from an iron supplement.
[00:18:10] Will Johnson: What Fata had done for so long, the impact it had on patients' lives, was unthinkable.
[00:18:15] Agent Drake: I have a laundry list of different things that he would say to people, which is mind-blowing, one of which was a lady who went to him, he diagnosed her with cancer, and then uh she's like, I'd like to get a second opinion. He's like, "Why? You don't need to get a second opinion. I have, I have experience here. My mom was diagnosed with this cancer and she died from this cancer. I would never, you know, purposely, you know, harm you with the treatment for this cancer. This is something that's near and dear to me." Um, and I asked that lady, I go, "Did he actually say that to you?" And she said, "Yes." And I'm like, oh, you know, no matter the stage of their cancer, whether it was stage 1 to 4, it didn't matter, you know, that I have a 70% chance of putting your cancer in remission. He was saying this to stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients.
[00:19:06] Will Johnson: So giving hope to people who clearly probably didn't deserve that level of hope.
[00:19:11] Agent Drake: That's correct. So he was treating these people with chemotherapy and these other drugs, you know, hours until they'd died. So he's doing it, he's, you know, using the human body as a commodity to, to keep billing and billing and billing and billing and billing until it's no longer useful for him.
[00:19:29] Will Johnson: Fata had violated the sacred trust between doctor and patient. For Dr. Soe Maunglay who would come forward with evidence of Fata's crimes, the truth was unbelievable.
[00:19:38] Dr. Maunglay: The cancer doctor and the cancer patient, the bond we have, it's like, you know, almost like a second family, right? Because the cancer patient will see you more than they see their cousins. This is, this is very, very intimate and they would do anything, they would just look you in the eye and they'd say, "Doc, what do you recommend?"
[00:19:55] Will Johnson: The truth was hard to swallow. Fata's patients numbered in the thousands, and it was clear that at least hundreds had been given unnecessary treatments or had been misdiagnosed. Barbara McQuade with the US Attorney's Office.
[00:20:09] Barbara McQuade: We were able to document 515 patients who were abused in some way. Some who were falsely diagnosed with having cancer who didn't, others who received excessive treatments. It's likely there were more, but these were the ones we were able to document through their patient file.
[00:20:24] Will Johnson: And as investigators were soon to learn, the amount of money involved in the case was truly staggering.
[00:20:30] Barbara McQuade: He, his false billings amounted to $34 million and we calculated his profits at $17 million.
[00:20:37] Will Johnson: Angela Swantek was one of the first to make an official complaint against Fata back in 2009 after a job interview when she noticed a clear disregard for basic procedures in his clinic.
[00:20:48] Angela Swantek: The patients never had a chance. They were poisoned. They died unnecessarily, they probably would have lived you know longer in a better quality of life.
[00:20:58] Will Johnson: George Karadsheh says to his knowledge, many of the nurses and staff at the center were able to move on with their lives and get new jobs. Nursing was in hot demand. Unlike Fata, they did not face criminal charges. As news of Fata's crimes spread, court hearings came and went, and a trial date approached. Fata did plead guilty in September 2014, just over a year after his arrest.
[00:21:21] Barbara McQuade: He pleaded guilty to 13 counts of healthcare fraud, and one count of conspiracy to receive kickbacks, and two counts of money laundering.
[00:21:31] Will Johnson: In July 2015, a sentencing hearing is scheduled. Angela Swantek was at the hearing. And as victim after victim read their statements, she watched as Fata revealed yet another layer of his character.
[00:21:43] Angela Swantek: It truly was like sitting through, uh I can't even remember. It was like sitting through you know 20 eulogies. And he looked so put off that I don't know why I'm sitting here, you know, he looked completely disengaged. And it was, it was very offensive. And so then he, you know, stood up and you know did his little song and dance, and it was, it was like you just wanted him to sit down and shut up.
[00:22:13] George Soberay: You know, when I gave my, my read up in front, I just, we didn't ask for this, and you know, we none of this was planned by me to, you know, but the fact is, you put me through this, you know. What if it was your family that you did, this was done to? Your son, your daughter, your wife? And he wouldn't even look at me. Would not even look at me, when I made my statement. He just turned away. He did not show any remorse. He did not care one thing about people, about the people. No, he was concerned about him going to jail. That's all he was concerned about. Or how many years he got. Yeah. It was, it was a big, a big farce, the whole thing.
[00:23:00] Will Johnson: When we started researching the story of Farid Fata and wondered why this al happened, why he did what he did, we already knew that greed would be part of the answer. But when Farid Fata finally got his chance to speak on the stand, we learned what else drove him to wreak havoc on the lives of his patients and break that sacred bond between doctor and patient. Barbara McQuade.
[00:23:20] Barbara McQuade: The judge asked him why he had done it. And he said, "Out of greed." Which I understood, but then he also said something interesting. He said, "And out of power." He seemed to enjoy having the position of power over his patients and sort of controlling their destiny. That was something I'd never heard before. Greed you hear a lot from defendants. I had never heard that someone had enjoyed harming people through this position of power.
[00:23:51] Sarah Cohen: The district judge sentenced Fata to 45 years in a federal prison. I will say that 45 years in prison for um, an individual's who's never been in prison before and an individual of Fata's age is an extremely lengthy sentence.
[00:24:07] Will Johnson: Despite the fact that Fata's life would almost certainly be spent behind bars, doesn't sit well with many of Fata's patients. Among them, Robert Soberay.
[00:24:16] Robert Soberay: As far as what he got, no, he should have, he should have gotten life. Automatic, it should have been life. 45 years, he's still got a very slight chance of walking out of there. I'm waiting for that day. I hope, I hope to God I'm still alive that day, and they say he's going to be released today, because I'll tell you what, there's going to be a lot of people waiting for him when he walks out.
[00:24:33] Will Johnson: It wasn't enough for Angela Swantek who'd made allegations about Fata years earlier and was later interviewed by the FBI after his arrest.
[00:24:41] Angela Swantek: The thing that never sits well with me as I reported him because he was harming patients. He was harming them, he was killing them, he was poisoning them. And what ultimately got him arrested was all about the money. Imagine if that was your mom or your dad that died in that three year span of when I reported him to his arrest. I actually proposed this to the Feds, and I said, "Listen," I said, "He gave, if somebody is only supposed to get 6 months of chemotherapy, and he gave them two years of chemotherapy, and they died because of you know side effects, how is that not murder?"
[00:25:29] Will Johnson: Yeah. And what kind of response did you get?
[00:25:31] Angela Swantek: It's just hard to prove. They said it was hard to prove that that's what his intent was.
[00:25:36] Will Johnson: He's in jail now, so I hope that's some, and he'll be there for a long time.
[00:25:40] Angela Swantek: Yes, he's going to be, he'll die there.
[00:25:41] Barbara McQuade: Well, from time to time, patients would ask, are your charging him with murder or attempted murder, and you know, in the federal system, you can really only charge people with violations of acts of Congress, federal crimes, and so using the, the tools we had available to us, uh the obvious charge was healthcare fraud, that makes it a federal offense, and in some ways, it was a life sentence. He's a 50-year-old man at the time of the sentencing, and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison, and I think you know, being released at 95 or thereabouts um, I think is, is certainly, justice was served.
[00:26:15] Will Johnson: The US Attorney's Office is still working on restitution for the patients. A special facilitator was hired to work with victims. But the money they did seize will never be enough to go around to everyone, and to make up for the pain and shattered lives and lost time. Fata's plea deal included over 500 victims, but the total number of victims will never be known.
[00:26:34] Barbara McQuade: Unquestionably, there were many, many more victims of his crimes than 553. Fata, at the time of his arrest, um, had over 16,000 historical patients, and over a thousand patients currently in his practice.
[00:26:57] Will Johnson: So what could any of Fata's patients have done, if anything, to protect themselves? Many of the patients got to know Angela Swantek after Fata's arrest and went to her for help.
[00:27:07] Angela Swantek: Get your pathology report, because whenever I had to review a chart, that's the first thing I would look for is where's the pathology report? Where's the bone marrow biopsy? Most all of them said, no evidence of cancer but Fata told them that they did.
[00:27:26] George Soberay: Nowadays I, I encourage anyone and everyone and myself, go get a second opinion, automatically. I don't care what doctor it is. Always question stuff. Question everything they do for you. They tell you, take this pill, question why and find out and everything you can read on it. Get on the internet and look it up, cause it'll help you out 100%.
[00:27:47] Will Johnson: For many of Fata's patients, the physical pain and suffering lasted years after his arrest. Dr. Soe Maunglay is now practicing in California. He says the impact of Fata's crimes is still being felt.
[00:27:59] Dr. Maunglay: This was a very big hit on medical oncology. And with all the advances (inaudible) cancers are cured, patients are living longer, quality of life is so much better, but he did harm to the medical community in the worst way possible by uh just taking away the trust that there are so many patients that we could help, but this case, Fata's case (inaudible) as example to go to, okay, I'm going to go to Mexico to get um, the Vitamin C infusions, because I don't trust the natural--, I'm going to go the natural route, I don't trust the modern medicine. That was the piece of harm that he did beyond the physical harm that he did to possibly maybe 1000 patients. He did harm way more than that.
[00:28:44] Will Johnson: Robert Soberay is angry too. You can hear it in his voice.
[00:28:47] Robert Soberay: This brings back memories, Will, and I, (sigh) it's like getting headaches and upset stomach and everything else every time I think about it. And um, I apologize. I, you know, go ahead, I'm sorry.
[00:29:02] Will Johnson: Robert's doing better today though. He's taking 16 medications instead of the 23 he took a few years ago.
[00:29:08] Robert Soberay: Even doctor said, he goes, "You look a lot better than you did five years ago when you walked in my office." You know, he says, "It's," he says, "I didn't think you were going to make it there when you first walked in." I was sick. I was really bad off.
[00:29:19] Will Johnson: You'll remember the reason why Robert went to see Farid Fata all those years ago, was because of an x-ray that showed what looked like an area of missing bone. Possible cancer. Robert eventually found out what that missing bone really was.
[00:29:32] Robert Soberay: Well, yeah, come to find out, there was a, a blur on the x-ray. No, just a little blur on the x-ray is all it was. Uh, that part was blackened out, but looked like something was missing. And they swear up and down. I got a copy of this, and they says, "It's just, it looks like it's not there," but all it was just a blur in the x-ray. All of a sudden, they should have a second one done, but nobody thought about that or anything else.
[00:29:57] Will Johnson: George Karadsheh, the office manager turned whistleblower who took the case to the FBI is still left wondering how and why a successful physician could have brought so much pain and suffering to the people he was treating.
[00:30:08] George Karadsheh: Why would he throw this all away? Why would he throw his family, why would he throw the clinic, the, the employees, the, the patients, what would motivate this man to do this kind of thing? Those are the kind of questions I tried to ask myself. I didn't have the answer.
[00:30:26] Will Johnson: George still doesn’t have an answer. If anything, he's learned that doing the right thing can life-altering consequences.
[00:30:32] George Karadsheh: Being a whistleblower to me, means that you are contributing to um, society in a real and meaningful way. I mean it, it isn't something that the society necessarily agrees with because people want you to come forward and they want you to, when you see something to say something. But when you do, the consequences are very harsh. In other words, you could, when you come forward, even if you’re correct, you could be blacklisted, you will definitely be fired. I don't know anybody who's a whistleblower and wasn't fired from the job. I was included in that. Effectively I gave up my position and my career. It's only because of shows like this that give me a platform to tell my side of the story, albeit that it was years later. It does get me um, from the perspective of, of being able to not only tell the story as it should have been told, but also to help prevent by telling this story, prevent or reduce the risk of the next Dr. Fata from ever impacting anyone else.
[00:31:45] Will Johnson: I'm back with Peggy Pasado. She is retired now, but for many years was with the Department of Justice and the Medicare Fraud Strike Force Team. Peggy, I want to point out a note here, a final note on the story of Dr. Farid Fata that his, his trial went all the way to the Supreme Court. It did get denied, so I know there are a lot of victims of this story who are not completely satisfied with what he got, but he's not going anywhere anytime soon. And over your long career, you've certainly put a few people behind bars, or rather helped too, I would imagine.
[00:32:17] Peggy Pasado: Yes, I helped. I'm a, I'm a little short person that sort of sat in the back and shuffled papers, but I helped.
[00:32:24] Will Johnson: Right, running the numbers and paying close attention. Well, and as we pointed out earlier, I mean you, you actually, your work helped save billions of dollars for taxpayers, but the, again, want to point out that this, this story of Farid Fata is one example of a big horrible huge problem, um, it is not isolated by any means.
[00:32:46] Peggy Pasado: The cases that I've worked on have been surgeons, have been durable medical equipment companies, have been private physicians. I mean it's all types. And the majority of them are all very, very high dollar and very egregious fraud.
[00:33:00] Will Johnson: Let me ask you one more time as we look at Dr. Farid Fata and what he was doing with patients, where he was prescribing treatments and medication that they simply did not need; how would he then make money from Medicare?
[00:33:12] Peggy Pasado: What he was doing as I have been able to figure out was, he was doing a number of things. He was giving the medication that the patients didn't need. He was running the diagnostics that were supposed to support what that was, whether he, I don't know what the results on those were, he was doing the um, PET scans. On all of these things he was making money, okay? How will the patient know? The patient wouldn't know. The patient, you know, the labs wouldn't know what the circumstances were. So he was free and clear as far as nobody knew what he was doing. Nobody apparently got a second opinion, or you know understood the depth. So he kept his card fairly close, and he owned a total of 7 companies. And they all supported him. I mean all the, all the money that he was pushing through those companies came back to him. So that's how he made money.
[00:34:06] Will Johnson: In your experience with Medicare fraud or have you run into situations or is it common that there are simply people who are part of an organization that are looking the other way? They may not be the actual people who are doing the, the bilking of the government or Medicare, but, but the...
[00:34:19] Peggy Pasado: Right, there are people, I guess if, if they had to fight to get the job, they were afraid they're going to lose their job, they're afraid they're going to get caught up in something, you know, they're afraid that maybe it'll come back and get them, too. So there's a, there's a certain amount of, of fear. You know, they know that it's wrong, but I don't know what to do about it. I don't know who to talk to. I don't know where to go. I mean so there's, there's that kind of fear and it's, it's based on the people that are there, whether they were, so to speak brainwashed that you can't talk about this or you, you don't know the whole story. And that's another trick they play, is nobody knows the whole story.
[00:34:58] Will Johnson: And then what is the overall concern with Medicare running out at some point? Where do we stand?
[00:35:03] Peggy Pasado: As long as the Medicare Trust Fund is supported by payroll taxes, general revenue taxes, and premiums, as long as we've got people enough paying into that fund, we're okay. The, the scary part is, with the Baby Boomers taking more out and, and they're having fewer children, so we don't have as many people supporting the Medicare Trust Fund.
[00:35:25] Will Johnson: I want to point out and make clear that there are uh, a whole world of honest, trustworthy, professional, wonderful physicians, and healthcare workers who are not doing this.
[00:35:39] Peggy Pasado: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I've talked to several of them this past few weeks, and, and they're understanding, they're, uh, they're wonderful people. Wonderful people. And I sincerely hope, because I, I had that as my career, and, and so I don't, I don’t talk down about, you know nurses and doctors, because I would, I've been in the system since was 20 years old, and they are, they're basically nice people. They want to help other people. So no, I don't, I don't uh, I don't go at this with a chip on my shoulder, with an attitude, with a cynical attitude about it, but there, there are wonderful people out there.
[00:36:14] Will Johnson: Peggy Pasado, you are a true hero and we are honored to have you on as your Medicare Fraud Expert. Thanks again for sharing...
[00:36:20] Peggy Pasado: Thank you.
[00:36:21] Will Johnson: ... sharing all your thoughts and expertise (inaudible).
[00:36:24] Peggy Pasado: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
[00:36:26] Will Johnson: For more information and resources on how to protect yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim of a scam, you can visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. Many thanks to our producers, Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, and of course, audio engineer, Julio Gonzales. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. For The Perfect Scam, I’m Will Johnson.
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