DETROIT – Medicare fraud is pervasive in Detroit and elsewhere in the country. The U.S. Attorney’s Office here is constantly prosecuting cases, some involving some very big amounts of money.
But no case in recent times has garnered more attention in Detroit than the Medicare fraud scandal involving oncologist/hematologist Dr. Farid Fata of Oakland County, who was not only accused of bilking Medicare of tens of millions of dollars, but of also misdiagnosing patients, telling them they had cancer when they didn’t, and of giving unnecessary chemotherapy to people, some of whom didn’t even have cancer or couldn’t have possibly benefited at the stage of cancer they were in.
The case was simply a scary reminder that someone in a position of authority and trust can take advantage of people in their most vulnerable state.
On Tuesday, Dr. Fata, 49, of Oakland Township, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to several counts of health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Specifically, Fata pleaded guilty to 13 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks and two counts of money laundering. Sentencing is set for Feb. 23 where he could face some serious prison time and fines.
“At a time when they are most vulnerable and fearful, cancer patients put their lives in the hands of doctors and endure risky treatments at their recommendation,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement.
“Dr. Fata today admitted he put greed before the health and safety of his patients, putting them through unnecessary chemotherapy and other treatments just so that he could collect additional millions from Medicare. The mere thought of what he did is chilling. Thanks to the quick action of our partners, he was arrested and has now admitted his guilt.”
Fata operated a cancer treatment clinic, Michigan Hematology Oncology, which had offices in Rochester Hills, Clarkston, Bloomfield Hills, Lapeer, Sterling Heights, Troy and Oak Park. He also owned a diagnostic testing facility, United Diagnostics PLLC, in Rochester Hills.
Authorities said that Fata submitted approximately $225 million in claims to Medicare between August 2007 and July 2013. In the end, Medicare paid out more than $91 million to Fata, of which over $48 million was for chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
In court on Tuesday, the doctor read aloud an admission that he submitted false Medicare and insurance claims and ordered “medically unnecessary” treatments, according to the Detroit News.
The plea came just weeks before his Oct. 14 trial.
The News quoted Liz Lupo, the daughter of a former Fata patient who died of lung cancer in 2007. She expressed disappointment in the plea.
“He’s not being charged with enough,” she said. “He pled guilty to a handful of patients when there were thousands. We wanted to hear the details about how he was allowed to (do this).”
The FBI is investigating a body donor program in Portland following similar probes in Detroit and Arizona.
Oregonlive.com reports that the FBI launched an investigation into Legacy Health.
But authorities are tightlipped about the probe of Legacy Health.
“Other than confirming that there is an FBI investigation into the Legacy Body Donation Program, there isn’t much more I can say,” said FBI special agent David Porter, a spokesman in the bureau’s Detroit field office.
The investigation involves health screenings of the bodies and failure to notify families of how bodies were being used, Oregonelive.com reports.
Rumors have put a negative light on body donation services.
“People are confused. They just want to verify that we’re not one of those organizations they’ve read about,” Corrina Patzer, director of business services for Lions VisionGift, said. “It impacts transplants, it impacts donations.”
The investigation appears to have its roots in two similar cases in Detroit and Arizona.
James P. Mallon Jr., a retired FBI special agent who helped crack down on organized crime, died after a battle with cancer on Friday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Mallon was working in Detroit when the FBI tapped him to work in the Organized Crime program in Atlantic City, where he shined.
Mallon “was very instrumental in helping set up an FBI undercover operation that resulted in the indictment and conviction of former Atlantic City Mayor Michael Matthews,” in 1984.
Mallon was born in Philadelphia and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. After college, he initially worked as a certified public accountant.
Mallon’s career as an FBI special agent began in 1972. He worked in offices in Buffalo, Newark and Detroit.
DETROIT — U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn’s second-floor courtroom in downtown Detroit is normally a sobering place where drama unfolds and lawyers do battle.But on Wednesday, all was different. There was plenty joy in the air. Lawyers and judges, friends and family, reporters and court workers and a group of his former law clerks and staff filled the cavernous room to celebrate a milestone birthday: His 90th. There were soft drinks and little desserts and abundance of smiles and laughter.
Cohn moves these days a little slower than in the past, and certainly more so than in 1979 when he was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter. But Cohn, who has always been considered one of the shining legal minds in the courthouse, continues to display his sharpness and wit.
“The judge’s body may be 90, but his mind is 35 and sharp as a tack,” says defense attorney Robert Morgan, a former federal prosecutor. “He’s also the most voracious reader of pleadings, books, magazines and news articles of anyone I’ve ever known.”
At the party, he told the crowd that his relationship with his secretary Lori Van Hove is based on a “need to know basis. She tells me what I need to know.”
The day after the party, Cohn told Deadline Detroit that he has no intention of slowing down even though he has taken senior status and is getting on in years. Most judges with that status take a lighter load, though according to the Oakland County Legal News, Cohn isn’t alone. He’s one of 30 district judges 90 or over in the country on senior status who still take a full load.
He says he gets the same number of cases as the other judges, but adds:
“The only reason I’m slowing down is because we’re all getting less cases.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen told the Oakland Legal News:
“At 90 years old, Judge Cohn remains what he has been for more than three-and-a-half decades – a vital force in the life of our court family, and the conscience of the court. He continues to preside over a full criminal and civil docket with a razor-sharp mind, astute intellect, and remarkable energy and enthusiasm. He is an institution on our court, and is admired, respected and beloved by his colleagues and our staff.”
Does Cohn still enjoy the job after all these years?
“I never use the word enjoy” when talking about the bench, he said. “I get great satisfaction. Enjoy isn’t a word that a judge should use.”
DETROIT — As we thought would be the case, the PBS show Tuesday night on Jimmy Hoffa — “Who Killed Jimmy Hoffa?” – didn’t crack the case as the pre-show hype suggested it might. And it certainly didn’t leave you feeling as if you knew what really happened to the Teamster boss.
It was entertaining, but a little cheesy, particularly for a PBS production.
Retired FBI Agent Greg Stejskal, who was interviewed in the show, told ticklethewire.com after the show that he thought it was full of “a lot of speculation” and “I thought pretty far fetched as far as some of the connections they made.”
“There’s a lot of information there,” he said. “But I thought they took a lot of literary license making things fit together that didn’t necessarily fit together and basically ignored things that would have argued otherwise.”
The PBS website hyped the upcoming show:
For decades, investigators have searched for clues about what happened to Hoffa and why. Was he murdered? If so, who wanted him dead? After serving prison time for conspiracy and fraud, Hoffa was pardoned by President Richard Nixon. What interest did the White House have in Jimmy Hoffa?
Recently declassified government files reveal shocking evidence of corruption at the highest levels. Interviews with a former mob lawyer, a murder witness, and an FBI agent are among the sources History Detectives unearth as they track Jimmy Hoffa’s final hours and answer the question: “Who killed Jimmy Hoffa?”
The show gave a lot of weight to a death bed confession of Frank Sheeran, a friend of Hoffa who was described as a hitman. Sheeran said he killed Hoffa at a home in Detroit.
Stejskal said the FBI investigated and was dismissive of his claims.
It also talked about President Richard Nixon possibly taking mob money, something that had reported in the past.
David Ashenfelter, a former Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reporter, and a Pulitzer prize winner, who was interviewed in the show, told ticklethewire.com:
“I think Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance remains a mystery. I found the archival footage very interesting. I enjoyed the program.
“I thought they covered all of the major leads and brought a younger generation up to date on one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th Century,” he added. “But as it always turns out in the Hoffa mystery, we don’t know much more than we knew when the FBI wrote the Hoffex Memo six months after Jimmy Hoffa vanished.”
DETROIT — Giacomo “Black Jack” Tocco, the reputed head of the Detroit Mafia for more than three decades, who kept a relatively low profile — more so than infamous mob brothers Vito and Anthony Giacalone — died Monday night at age 87, mob expert Scott Burnstein of the Oakland Press reported.
Tocco, who was long suspected of having ties to the 1975 disappearance of James Hoffa, died of natural causes according to Bagnasco & Calcaterra Funeral Home in Sterling Heights. The funeral will be Friday.
Raised in the upscale Windmill Pointe section of Grosse Pointe Park, Tocco earned a finance degree from the University of Detroit In 1949, according to an entry in Wikipedia.
He went on to own businesses around the state and built an impressive real estate portfolio, all while managing to maintain a fairly low profile, particularly when it came to media attention. The Giacalone brothers, who were capos, and underlings of Tocco, had far more recognizable names in Metro Detroit.
“Jack was very low-profile, highly intelligent and business savvy and really the opposite of what people would view as a typical gangster, the kind you see in movies and on television,” retired FBI agent Mike Carone told the Oakland Press. “I think that’s why he was able to stay under the radar for such a long time and avoid a lot of the pitfalls of being a mob boss, such as violence and long prison sentences. He was one of the last of a dying era.”
Tocco’s only felony conviction came in 1998 in a major racketeering case, which sent him off to federal prison for two years. Before that, his only previous conviction was for attending an illegal cock fight, according to a history of the Detroit mob on the FBI’s website.
Burnstein writes that Tocco owned the Hazel Park Raceway for more than four decades. Last summer, FBI agents searched former property he owned in northern Oakland County, looking for Hoffa’s body. The search set off a circus-like atmosphere — replete with an army of FBI agents, the media and curious neighbors. The feds came up empty.
The tip came from the former second in command of the Detroit mob, Anthony “Tony Z” Zerilli, a now elderly man who was Tocco’s first cousin. Zerilli, who was in prison at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance, told the feds that he was informed of what happen to Hoffa after he left prison. He fell out of favor with the mob.
Prior to his passing, Tocco was considered the most-tenured mob don in the United States, having taken power in 1979 at a ceremony the FBI photographed. He ruled unchallenged until his death, said Eric Straus, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan in the United States Department of Justice. Straus spent two decades investigating Tocco.
Retired FBI agent Greg Stejskal, in an interview with Deadline Detroit Tuesday night, recalled that June 11, 1979, was the very day that it was officially announced to made-members of the Detroit Mafia that Tocco was taking over as boss, replacing Tony Zerilli, who had lost his juice in the organization.
Stejskal said he was part of an FBI surveillance team that followed some mobsters, including Tocco and Vito Giacalone, to a barber shop on Gratiot in northern Macomb County.
The men exited the shop and got into a van. Stejskal and his fellow agents followed the van to a game farm north of Chelsea.
The agents saw it was a big gathering, and Stejskal recalls thinking:
“Whatever it is, it’s a big deal. The only people there were all made guys.”
He said he and another agent quietly went behind an archery target on the property that was owned at the time by reputed mobsters Antonio and Luigi Ruggirello.
“I had my camera with a 300 mm lense and I started taking pictures,” Stejskal said.
Eventually, from intelligence, the agents learned that the gathering officially marked the start of Tocco’s long reign as Detroit’s reputed Godfather.
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The FBI plans to interview a 12-year-old boy who went missing before turning up in the basement of his home in a strange case that has gotten international attention, the Free Press reports.
The forensic interview of Charlie Bothuell is scheduled for today.
“Based on the outcome of this interview, the Detroit Police Department may be submitting a package to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office as early as Wednesday afternoon,” according to a statement from Detroit police. “For the time being, Charlie is currently staying with relatives in an undisclosed location.”
After Bothuell was found in the basement of his home Wednesday, suspicions fell on the father and stepmother, who allegedly told the boy to hide in the basement and “not to come out, no matter what he hears.”
The son also told authorities that his father tried to drive a PVC pipe into his chest.