DETROIT — Susan Fiems felt some discomfort in her stomach, went to the doctor and was referred to Farid Fata, a suburban Detroit cancer specialist who diagnosed her with ovarian cancer.
Fata ordered a series of chemotherapy treatments over nine months, which Fiems underwent before dying in 2008, said her son, Matthew Fiems.
Last week, federal prosecutors charged Fata with fraud, accusing him of deliberately misdiagnosing patients and ordering chemotherapy for others who were in remission or had no chance of surviving, all to reap millions from the Medicare program.
Matthew Fiems, 43 and of Canton Township, is convinced his mother should have been allowed to come home and spend quality time with family before her death.
“All I know is that this physician took away what time Mom had left,” Fiems said outside Detroit federal court today following a bond hearing in the case. “How do you make that right?”
At the hearing, federal prosecutor Catherine Dick asked U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox to order a $9 million bond, roughly the amount of cash she said Fata, 48, and his wife have available to them in liquid assets.
The government, which has seized another $7 million of the Fatas’ holdings, wants to keep the doctor locked up, fearing he may flee to Lebanon, his native country.
But defense attorney Christopher Andreoff said Fata is a U.S. citizen who has been in this country for 20 years.
Dick also wants Fata barred from practicing medicine, saying the unnecessary procedures he ordered caused irreparable pain and suffering to an untold number of patients and their families.
He is a “danger to the community as long as he has a medical license,” Dick told the judge.
Andreoff countered by saying his client has staff privileges at seven hospitals and that no medical professionals have come forward to say Fata purposely misdiagnosed a patient. Plus, the defense attorney said Fata is entitled to a presumption of innocence and the right to work while defending himself from the charges against him.
Andreoff also argued that the government already has seized the vast majority of the cash available to his client and told Cox that Fata was prepared to post a $170,000 bond previously ordered by another judge.
Cox is the third judge to consider Fata’s bond conditions.
Under the terms of previous bond rulings, Fata was prohibited from practicing medicine during the case and remain electronically tethered to his home.
After hearing arguments from both sides and from a witness — an FBI contractor who was involved with tracing Fata’s assets — Cox said he would rule on the issue of bond by the end of the day.
Fata owns Michigan Hematology Oncology, which has offices in Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills, Lapeer, Sterling Heights, Troy and Oak Park.
Two of the doctor’s patients were in court to support him.
One of them, Theresa Pickering, who wore a “Cancer Sucks” T-shirt, walked back two rows before the hearing and embraced Fata’s wife, Samar, whispered in her ear and kissed her on the cheek.
Later, supporters yelled out that they loved Fata as he was escorted out of Cox’s courtroom. He mouthed, “Thank you,” as he walked.
The government says the clinics billed $35 million to Medicare over two years with Fata making $24.3 million in drug infusion billings directly to Medicare.
A criminal complaint quotes co-workers and former employees as saying dozens of people passed through the office each day, although Fata spent less than five minutes with each patient and hired doctors who may not have been properly licensed to practice medicine.
In one case, a patient fell and hit his head at Fata’s clinic but was told he needed chemotherapy before he could be taken to a hospital, according to the FBI. The man later died from the head injury. His name was not disclosed.
Matthew Fiems said a second opinion showed his mother actually had pancreatic cancer and recommended she receive palliative care, rather than chemotherapy.
“He can’t be allowed to do this to anyone else,” he said.
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