What to make of former doctor Farid Fata's crimes

DETROIT – When my children were young and asked me about my job, I told them what I do for a living is chronicle how we as human beings treat each other.

They were too little to understand the nuance of the news being largely about the bad things we do to each other back then. In looking back on my years in the journalism business and where the Farid Fata case falls in an infamous list of rogues, I started thinking about the truly heinous conduct of people who became well-knowns as a result of their misbegotten deeds.

I once saw the serial killer Ted Bundy in an exercise yard at Starke Prison in Florida in the days before he went to the electric chair. I will take to my grave that look I had directly into his steely blue eyes. To see true evil up close and personal is, to say the least, troubling.

Before Bundy I covered what was known as the Country Walk Child Sex Abuse case of Francisco Fuster Escalona in Miami. He was a convicted serial child molester. The estimate of his victims was at least 100 children. He was sentenced to 165 years in prison. He has about 130 years to go. He isn't on death row, but he is in Starke Prison in Florida, like Bundy. I looked in his eyes, too, and again, to see than kind of evil is something that never leaves you.

In Michigan I've covered the Mitchelle Blair sad saga. She will spend the rest of her life in prison for murdering her children. I had the misfortune of being the first journalist at that dark and grim scene last winter.

Though no one died, a once great city was rocked by the antics of now convicted felon Kwame Kilpatrick. Detroit will still need years to recover from his misdeeds. I looked in his eyes a lot and mistook narcissism for charisma. It is no less troubling.

Yet today, in considering former Farid Fata's crimes, he ingloriously finds himself in this special class of convicted felons who will spend the vast majority of the rest of their lives in prison. In reading all the differing descriptions of Fata, to see all of the superlatives attempting to describe succinctly the depths of his depravity, they somehow seem quaint. Judge Paul Borman said "this is a huge, horrific series of criminal acts." OK. U.S. Attorney Barba McQuade said "rather than use his medical degree to save lives, Dr. Fata instead destroyed them in pursuit of profit." A little clinical don't you think? FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Abbate said "Fata's heinous acts did far worse than defraud the government health care programs and breach his professional oath ... Fata caused grievous emotional physical harm, betraying the trust of hundreds of innocent patients by selfishly placing his personal financial gain over the health and welfare of those who entrusted him with their medical care." While closer, it's not especially succinct.

How about this: Dr. Farid Fata built a criminal enterprise that set out to make healthy people deathly ill and keep them that way until they died with the cash register ringing all along the way. That's roughly how prosecutor Catherine Dick put it in the courtroom.

Fata collected $17 million, roughly half of what he billed Medicare. He mistreated 553 patients. He made roughly $30,000 per patient by this reckoning. But it is probably much less because he treated many thousands of patients and didn't mistreat them all. Thus, he tortured people for what amounts to pennies in the scheme of things. This treatment of other human beings far exceeds the descriptive terms we've attempted. This is not pure evil -- it is something different and well beyond.

My wife, a psychology major, calls it psychotic. It's as good a description as any I can dream up.

The former doctor today admitted in court this wasn't so much about the money but being drunk with power. He said he allowed his pursuit of money and power to override his Hippocratic Oath: "first do no harm." In reading about the way he worked with patients there seemed to be a particular relish in the ability to essentially order patients to take drugs he knew would turn them into a deathly ill and uncomfortably dying person. To believe that is simple megalomania is to believe Dr. Fata was a good doctor. Something went entirely wrong on a scale that puts him in league with some of the sickest and most vile human beings in human history.

The victims today were appropriately torn between varying emotions. Was 45 years enough? Not to most of the victims. They wanted to see Fata leave prison in a pine box. His attorney pleaded with Judge Borland not to allow that to happen. Judge Borland went for 45 years because he said his job is to give a sentence that is "sufficient but not greater than necessary."

Several victims called the sentence bull excrement. Others called it fair. Some even called it a good way to close the book on Fata. It was fascinating to watch this large group of people so pained and grieving deal with the sentence with so many truly human emotions. No amount of jail time, no amount of punishment can undo the unkind savagery they received. One victim reminded us that punishment of any kind won't bring her husband back.

In the end I am reminded of another name that will go down in history, though it isn't a household name today. Dylan Roof killed in cold blood nine churchgoing Christians. The congregation there surprised the world by openly forgiving Roof for so chillingly and in misguided racist fashion killing their loved ones. That is the tortuous demand placed on truly believing Christians, and that Charleston church community taught us all what true forgiveness looks like. Biblically speaking, they will render unto Caesar what is Caesar's (Roof's fate) and render unto God what is God's -- their forgiveness and not clinging to anger and rage.

This means let the legal system play out and keep your faith.

In chronicling how we treat each other today this came to mind while speaking with "Marvie," a woman who was twice treated by Fata while she was pregnant. He overprescribed iron treatments. She now has iron poisoning and will suffer the rest of her life because of this callous disregard for a fellow human being. She welled up with tears in saying, "I am a Christian and I believe in forgiveness and if that's a lot today for him to say he was sorry, I'm going to try every day to forgive him because we've all been forgiven. So, I'm gonna try very hard to do that."

I attended Dr. Fata's arraignment two years ago. I looked into the eyes of this unique brand of evil. It has affected me deeply as it does all of metro Detroit. Allowing the court to do its job and listening to the Charleston church and Marvie seems the best answer for us all struggling to wrap our feeble minds around how anyone could treat other human beings this way.


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