Cancer doctor whistleblower: Did state ignore allegations?

DETROIT – On Aug. 8, 2013, Dr. Farid Fata was in federal court, shackled and charged with what amounts to deliberately drugging his patients for profit. Federal prosecutors said Fata bilked Medicare out of as much as $91 million by prescribing unnecessary chemotherapy treatments to his patients, many of whom didn't even have cancer.

Fata is facing a long list of charges, including health care fraud, money laundering and naturalization fraud.

READ: Criminal complaint against Farid Fata

Nurse Angela Swantek told Local 4 she immediately noticed something was wrong during an interview at one of Fata's Michigan Hematology Oncology centers.

Certified in oncology, Swantek said she noticed the way medications were not being administered correctly.

"I saw many violations with OSHA and also the way medication was given. Patients are being harmed because the therapies they are being given incorrectly," she said.

On April 14, 2010 -- three years before Fata was charged by the Fed with 24 counts of money laundering and naturalization fraud -- Swantek submitted a formal complaint to the state of Michigan's investigatory department, now called the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

A recording on their phone number describes the department's primary function as to "process complaints or allegations that are filed against licensed health professionals in Michigan."

Swantek said she was very specific in her complaint.

"I named the medications, how they are supposed to be given and how they were being given in his office and how more patients were being harmed," she said. "For example, a chemo drug Velcrave is supposed to be pushed through a syringe for 30 seconds. He gives it in an IV bag over an hour," Swantek said. "I think there were 16 or 17 chairs and everyone was full ... he was moving a lot of patients through like a chemo mill."

Swantek explained that the longer a patient is in an office chair, the more an insurance company is billed.

The indictment against Fata focuses on three patients who were given hundreds of doses of chemo drugs even though they were found to not have cancer. Swantek said she witnessed it.

"There was a part of me that wanted to go in and drag the patients out and say, 'You need to get out of here,'" she said.

According to LARA, a filed allegation will be reviewed and presented to the board's chair if there is substance enough to proceed with an investigation.

For more than a year, Local 4 has been pouring through documents and reports looking for the State's response, or lack thereof, to Swantek's complaint.

LARA deputy director Steve Gobbo said there was an investigation. But according to a document obtained by Local 4, the investigation was not approved or completed until a full year after Swantek's complaint. Then, Swantek got a letter stating the allegations were unfounded and that the case was being closed.

Gobbo said the state didn't drop the ball, and that if Swantek didn't get the answer she wanted, she should have gone elsewhere.

"In almost every case, I can tell you that if we are not the agency to handle the matter, we would tell them person and suggest them to go in a different avenue," Gobbo said. "I think, overall, the agency does a fabulous job in doing what it has to do under the regulatory scheme."

Swantek said she was never given any alternative direction.

"Where else is there to go? I mean, this is who oversees my license when I need to renew my license," she said. "What do you have to say in order to warrant an investigation to help them from doing harm to their patients?"

When asked by Local 4 if the department felt as if it was equipped to handle investigations, LARA director Carole Engle said, "Every year we receive more allegations because every year we are licensing more people. I think that perhaps in the coming years it's incumbent upon us to take a look at that and see do we in fact need to increase the number of investigators that we have."

The state is taking a new step.

"In order to better protect the health of Michigan citizens, the department was recently authorized by the legislature to implement new procedures that allow the bureau to open a new investigation when new information is presented rather than wait for a complaint to be filed," according to a statement given to Local 4.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Cancer doctor's fraud case

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