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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  March 21, 2016 2:05am-2:59am EDT

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>> we had a lot of fun. >> she loves gardening and spending time on the water with her husband, steve. that is when she's not busy running her home health care business. but even with her busy life, monica said she always took god care of her health. take me back to the spring and summer of 2012. you had a doctor's appointment, had some blood work done. tell me about that. >> i do my annual physical every year. i'm real faithful to my health. i had gone back to my primary care, and for about three years, she had been watching my blood. >> an elevated m protein can in rare cases develop into cancer. >> she said i think you need to see one of the best doctors around and find out what's going on. let's just get a professional opinion from a hemetologist. >> that's when monica went to see d
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in blood cancers. dr. fattah was might have gan oncology. here he is in a promotional video for his clinic. >> i received my medical training at the memorial cancer center in new york. >> he was very highly recommended in the community. >> you were told this was the best? >> absolutely. and i talked to several people, and people said he's the best cancer doctor out there. he's aggressive, but he's very good. >> dr. fata's name was on the list of top docs in detroit several years in a row, and the practice was one-stop shopping for cancer care. he owned his own testing lab, pharmacy, and radiation treatment facility. on monica's first visit to his clinic, dr. fata diagnosed her with something he called smoldering myeloma, something that could turn into full-blown cancer. >> it was awful.
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>> you go to dr. fata, and this is a serious illness. >> correct. >> dr. fata told her his approach would be aggressive. she would be closely monitored with blood tests and painful bone marrow biopsies. and over the next few months, monica spent hours and hours at the clinic, hooked up to i.v. drips, getting immune boosters to keep the cancer at bay. >> it was a real lifestyle change. i had never seen a doctor that many times in my entire life. >> luckily, monica had excellent insurance that would cover most of the bills, which quickly started adding up to tens of thousands of dollars in just a few months. but monica had been assured that with dr. fata, she was getting the best care money could buy. >> i really felt that, in a sense, he was doing god's work. >> george was dr. fata's office manager.
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he worked under his wife, samar, who ran the business side of the practice. >> 50 foot ceiling, artwork, grand piano. i thought to myself, oncology bought all of this? >> so your initial impression is this is an incredibly successful guy >> incredibly. i really wondered how he did it. >> dr. fata lived here in a ritzy suburb of detroit. one reason he was so successful was that his practice was so busy. at its peak, he was treating 1,700 patients in six clinics in the detroit area. >> it was huge, especially for basically a single physician, the amount of people walking in and out the door was incredible. >> nurse mary saturley worked for him and said he gave higher
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he called it a european protocol. >> it felt like it was way more than patients i had previously treated were getting. >> i would think there's a point where you're thinking it's not what i'm used to, but maybe it's not wrong. >> right. and so, you know, having the knowledge of a registered nurse, it's one-tenth of their knowledge being a physician. >> monica was taken aback by how dr. fata was treating her precancerous condition, and was often annoyed she would have to wait hours to see the doctor. did you give him a bit of a pass, the fact that you had to wait for him? >> initially, yes. >> what was your impression with dr. fata, personally? >> he was very difficult to understand. he was very soft spoken. we had to ask him repeatedly to explain. >> monica was frustrated eh
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to go back to her primary care physician to get a second opinion. >> she convinced me he's the best there is. >> so she continued to see dr. fata. after about eight months, he gave her difficult news. her condition was no longer smoldering. he was sitting and said you now have full-blown myeloma, and this is what you have to do. >> we need to treat it is what he said. >> how did you react to that? >> i was very scared. >> multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that can be fatal. but dr. fata explained that he would try to keep her alive with a lifetime regimen of chemotherapy, a toxic cocktail of drugs that can cause irreversible side effects. sadly, we all know people who have gone through chemotherapy. when you were told you were
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going to need it, but for your lifetime, how did you process that? >> it brought back a lot of -- i had a sister that had breast cancer. and the horror that she had to go through. and then i had a brother die of lung cancer. >> and you knew exactly what chemotherapy was. >> i knew what was in store, absolutely. >> but with those three words -- you have cancer -- she prepared to start chemotherapy, putting her trust and life in dr. fata's hands. coming up, something puzzling inside the clinic. >> he had cameras and microphones placed in the ceiling and walls. >> wait a minute, you're saying there were cameras to keep an eye on what people were doing?
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>> steve asked him at one point, what are our options? and he said, you need to start this drug immediately. >> or? >> or you will die. >> he said you would die? >> absolutely. >> before starting chemotherapy, monica and her husband, steve, booked a vacation to costa rica. >> we just needed to get away and regroup and come back and start our life of cancer. >> how was that trip? >> it was fabulous. >> wonderful. >> but in the back of your minds was, we get back, here we go, i'm going to be on chemo. >> right. >> yeah. >> monica had her frustrations with dr. fata and his aggressive style of treatment, but decided to stick with him. after all, he was considered the best cancer doctor in michigan. and very hands-on. there were two other oncologists working for him. but monica was always treated by dr. fata personally.
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simple. >> he worked under dr. fata in an outer suburb an hour away from the main hub near detroit. dr. fata was so hands-on, that he even personally treated patients who lived much closer than where dr. maunglay works. >> he dislocated me from his patients all together. >> it wasn't just under clinical control dr. fata maintained. inside the practice, the office manager said that he went to great lengths to ensure everything was done his way. >> he had cameras and microphones placed in the ceiling, walls, and him and his wife would periodically review that to ensure people were in the right place and saying the right things. >> wait a minute, a lot of businesses have cameras for security purposes so you don't steal stuff.
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you're saying there were cameras here to keep an eye on what people were doing? >> yes. >> did you find that at all unusual? >> well, i did find it unusual, but myself and a lot of others thought it was just something that he required because he was the kind of person that was very controlling. >> it was under the direction of dr. fata that monica was given her first dose of chemotherapy on july 1, 2013. a nurse delivered the cocktail of chemo drugs, and sent her home to rest. how did you feel afterwards? >> i was sad. i was frustrated. >> when you went home? >> it was really emotional for steve and i. >> given what she had seen her family members go through with chemotherapy, monica was bracing herself for the side effects to take hold. >> we just sat outside to talk about the day.
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no phones. >> but it started to rain, so monica rushed inside to close the windows, and tripped over her suitcase, still out from their trip to costa rica. >> went flying up in the air. when i came down, when i came down, i hit the suitcase and fell. when i fell, i then heard, snap, snap. >> monica had broken her leg in two places. and steve, you're thinking, oh, no, now this. >> yeah. i remember at the hospital, i thought i have chemotherapy in the morning, and have to deal with this. it was horrible. just horrible. >> as monica recovered in the hospital, dr. fata left on a short vacation to his country of lebanon while monica recovered. in his absence, a young doctor, who worked in his clinics, was ki
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practice's cancer patients. >> and when i met the doctor, he explained to me who he was. he just kept looking at me very strangely. i found it very strange. >> strange because he had been puzzling over monica's chart, confused by the results of her blood work. >> just by looking at the chart, i could not believe what i was seeing. >> the information in front of him just wasn't making sense. he asked monica a series of questions, and then -- >> the next day i went to the office to look at all the -- everything, all the blood tests and reports of dr. fata, clinic notes. >> and staring at the records, he came to an unnerving and inescapable conclusion. he went back to the hospital to see her, and told her everything she believed about her cancer was wrong.
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you don't have cancer? >> yes. he told me, you do not have cancer. coming up, no cancer? how could that be possible? >> i didn't believe him. >> just a wild story, and you're not buying it? >> i'm not buying it. >> why would anybody believe me over him? >> this is just
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monica flagg had just gotten the shock of her life. after beginning chemotherapy for a potentially fatal condition, she was told she did not have cancer. i think about that moment, what it must have been like to have someone tell you you don't have cancer. i mean, you want to shout it to the world? >> i did. i called everybody i knew. it was -- i was extremely happy. but i had a lot of anger. >> anger because this young doctor, soe maunglay, also seemed to be telling her that her misdiagnosis was no innocent mistake. after reviewing her charts, he concluded that d f
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>> if i see a patient one time and make a decision quickly on a very busy day, anybody can make a mistake. but this patient has been followed for a long time. >> he said to me, you need to find a new doctor. i will help you get your records. i don't want you to see dr. fata again. >> why was dr. maunglay so suspicious of his boss? it turns out, he had questions about dr. fata's aggressive treatment style for months. he says he saw dr. fata giving chemo to patients who were far too frail for the treatment. >> i always felt like, you know, some of the patients are too old, some of the patients are getting therapy, and they appear to be too sick. there was a lot of discussion about that. dr. fata was the go-to guy if you wanted aggressive treatment.
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>> dr. moung lay thought he was overtreating many patients. but monica's case appeared to be more egregious. her treatment was completely unnecessary. at this point, he had already decided to resign. but the idea of publically criticizing such a highly regarded doctor seemed like career suicide. >> why would anybody believe me? over him? >> so at first he said nothing. then the office manager went to see him about his impending departure from the practice. >> i asked him why? he said, i'll tell you, but not here. >> i said not in the hallway because of dr. fata's cameras. >> they went downstairs to a room where they were sure no one was listening or recording. dr. maunglay told george dr. fata was giving chemotherapy to a patient who didn't have cancer. >> i didn't believe him, because quite frankly, i knew of all of the other hands that were involved in patients. >> surely somebody would have said something. and here comes this dr. maunglay with this wild story. >> wild story.
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this is left field stuff. >> and you're not buying it? >> i'm not buying it. i thought he was trying to get out of his contract. i thought maybe he wanted to take the other nurse practitioners away and start up his own practice. so at that point, i didn't think anything of it. then i began -- it was a few days later, thinking about all of the comments that other practitioners made while i was there. >> george has no medical training, but he was aware that dr. fata's unusually aggressive treatment was sometimes a point of conflict in the office. >> nurses came to me and said i didn't necessarily agree, or doctors saying i don't feel comfortable with the treatment plan that dr. fata had. >> so suddenly all of these conversations -- >> these conversations come to mind. and i started to think maybe, maybe dr. maunglay has something.
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she was not going to die from cancer, she was looking back at her time with dr. fata and realized she had doubts all along. the news confirmed all those suspicions and all those red flags that were going off in your head. >> absolutely. >> about him. >> as soon as i heard it, i was convinced that, you know, he was a bad doctor. this is just wrong. something is going on bigger than her case. >> what was going on inside those cancer clinics? if monica wasn't the only one, how many more of dr. fata's patients were being mistreated? coming up -- >> it was crazy. >> i thought, these patients have no idea. >> here's the question, why would anyone treat people for cancers they didn't have? >> i thought, oh, my gosh, i know exactly what he's doing.
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dr. maunglay suspected his boss, an esteemed cancer doctor, was a fraud. but who would believe him? >> to tell you the truth, i did not know who to trust. >> he had no idea that he was not the first medical professional to have suspicions about dr. fata. >> my biggest concern were for those patients. >> back in 2010, angela swantech, an experienced oncology nurse, first saw dr. fata's clinic. she was there applying for a job, and would spend a day shadowing one of fata's nurses. tell me what that day was like. >> that was the first time i got
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as she watched the nurses work, she saw potent cancer drugs being infiesed the wrong way. >> she says patients were getting drugs at higher doses and for longer time periods she believed was medically necessary. and she was worried about the consequences to their health. to be clear, the things that you observe, are these things that are just unusual or just plain old wrong? >> they are plain wrong. >> you're not supposed to do them that way? >> no, no. there's no gray area with chemotherapy. it has a specific route over a specific time. >> angela turned down the job, and left as quickly as she could. so when you left that office that day, you're driving off, what are you thinking about this place? >> i was horrified. i remember getting into my car, and i thought m
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patients have no idea, the horrible care that they are receiving. >> she never saw any patient files. but came to her own conclusion about what was behind dr. fata's treatment plans. >> so i thought to myself, oh, my gosh, i know exactly what he's doing. he is keeping these patients in the chair so he can bill the insurance company for more money. >> you summed that up -- >> in 20 minutes. >> and now, three years later, dr. maunglay was thinking the same thing. monica's cancer diagnosis looked like part of a scheme to bilk patients and insurance companies. monica's treatment would have cost close to $200,000 a year. >> a 50-year-old, professional woman who is healthy, most likely has good insurance. so dr. fata would have given this treatment until she died, maybe one decade, all unnecessary treatment.
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he chose her for a reason. >> the office manager was mulling over the allegations he had heard from dr. maunglay, that dr. fata was prescribing toxic drugs to patients who didn't need them. >> i asked him if he could give me the name of the drugs. he said there's too many drugs. i said just give me one drug. and he gave me the name of the drug called ibig. >> it's a powerful drug with serious side effects that should only be given to patients with specific immune system deficiencies. given to the wrong patient, it can be dangerous. george went to trusted and experienced nurse, nancy saturley, and asked her what she new about how the doctor was administering the drug. >>he
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became sorrowful and then started to cry. >> it was crazy. it was that all these people were getting this medicine and they never qualified for it. >> as it turns out, mary had recently discovered almost none of the patients she was treating with ibig needed it. >> only two people really have needed this out of just one week, have needed this drug. >> out of 40? >> out of 40. >> she persuaded dr. fata to stop prescribing that drug, but now she was realizing there was much more going on. the office manager recalls you saying, are we in trouble? what were your concerns? >> are people going to think that we had anything to do with what he was doing behind closed doors? people are going to understand that we tried to do the best we could for them. we gave them the best possible care. >> because you were physically administering this. >> yes. >> and so you were worried that there might be blowback because you were part of it? >> uh-huh. >> and monica, who was still recovering from a broken leg,
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set in motion. after your conversation with dr. maunglay, which he gave you the news you didn't have cancer, were you aware of what was transpiring over the next several weeks? >> no. >> but a lot was happening. >> my head was swimming. >> george made copies of all the practice's financial records and took them to an attorney who was an expert in whistleblower cases. together, they tipped off the office of barbara mcquaid. >> i remember the case came in on a friday afternoon. we had just received a tip from a whistleblower that there was a doctor prescribing chemotherapy for a patient that didn't have cancer. most of us were skeptical. about whether that would be try. >> just in case those stunning claims were true, she launched a team of investigators. what they found would surprise everyone. it seems like each story h
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story to tell about the once esteemed cancer doctor, farid fata. >> we had complete trust in him. >> when i would say, it's got to stop, he would say, she's going to die. >> here at the concord hotel next to fata's clinic, former patients and loved ones gather regularly to lend support to one another. i met with 25 of them who came to tell me their stories. some were sick, but were grossly overtreated. while others like monica never had cancer at all, including patty hester. >> when i got the diagnosis, my world was shattered. he told me that i was terminal and i was going to die. >> your family at one point decided to take you on a trip? >> yeah. >> almost a farewell trip? >> yeah, we went to disney world.
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and it was really hard. because i knew my sister's little girl, she's 5, i wanted her to remember me well. >> you thought you had a death sentence? >> i did. >> robert never had cancer, either. >> but then you find out you don't have cancer, when the doctor said you don't have cancer, i was happy, but my whole world felt gone. >> tracy's husband david had a precancerous condition, and he had chemotherapy for seven years. he suffered horrible side effects. his quality of life was robbed. >> he was full of infection. his immune system was gone. he lost both his legs. >> her husband passed away last spring. >> he was being poisoned. i don't think he had a chance.
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as long as he was with fata. >> cindy's mother was also treated too aggressively. she died within a few months of meeting dr. fata. >> i look at my mom's picture every day, and i only have a picture to apologize to. the guilt never goes away, even though i know it wasn't my fault. my sister knows it wasn't her fault. but it never goes away, feeling guilty. >> chris almost died of heart failure as a result of excessive chemo. >> i spent close to two weeks in icu, in isolation, and had my heart stopped and started three times. i mean, it was -- my system was shutting down, and it was all due to the poisoning of the amount of chemo. >> like chris, many of the victims are still dealing with lasting consequences of the unnecessary drugs.
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>> i lost all my teeth. all but one now. and i'm still trying to figure out how to pay for dentures. but everything is just falling apart on me. >> teddy howard is another patient who never had cancer. >> i had to have a liver transplant. >> as a result of the chemo? >> as a result of the chemo. now i'm taking an enormous amount of pills to stay alive. >> all of them were initially taken in by dr. fata's credentials. and what they thought was an impressive work ethic. >> he was at the hospital at 6:00 in the morning. he was at the hospital at midnight. now i know why. because no one would cover for him. and now it all makes sense. >> he had the same business model for everyone how he was going to maximize his dollar amount out of everybody. >> if you don't get the treatment, you're going to die. >> he diagnosed you with cancers with the kind you can't hold up a cat scan and say here's the tumor.
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the kind you couldn't get, see for yourself with your own eyes. so it was a matter of absolute trust. >> yes. >> they have mr reason to be frustrated. dr. fata could have been stopped years earlier. you called it a chemo mill. what did you mean by that? >> just the volume. so it was like get them in, get them in and get them in. >> it was back in 2010 that oncology nurse angela swantek spent her morning in the clinic for that job interview and left horrified. but she did not go quietly. even though she had no idea some of fata's patients didn't even have cancer, she said a formal complaint about what she saw to michigan's health department. and i read your report. you cut right to the chase. >> i listed specific drugs. i said patients were being harmed, and that this physician was doing more harm than good. i even put he
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blue-cross, blue-shield. >> this was serious and urgent, because lives were at stake. so i assume you heard from the state right away? >> no, i didn't. >> you didn't get a call? >> no phone call. no follow-up. nobody interviewed me. >> a letter in the mail? >> nothing. >> after more than a year, angela finally got a response. what was that communication? >> the letter, first of all, the letter had my last name spelled incorrectly. so i had a feeling they didn't even look, they didn't even do their due diligence. the first sentence was, some time ago you filed an allegation against the above-named physician. we did a thorough investigation and found no evidence to -- of the violation of the public health code, so the case is closed. thank you. sorry. >> in the years that followed angela's 2010 complainr.
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and bounds. how many -- show of hands, how many of you had interactions with dr. fata since 2010? virtually all of you. >> i would question how many people are alive that saw him before 2010. >> if angela swantek had been taken seriously, if the state had acted on her concerns, thought about where that would have left you. >> none of it would have happened. i would be living life like i knew it back in 2012. >> and so would have others. >> absolutely. absolutely. >> but three years later, after monica's broken leg, her chance encounter at the hospital and a tip from the office manager, federal prosecutors were finally on the case. monica and everyone else in this room was hoping for justice. coming up -- >> he lied to everybody.
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his lies knew no boundaries. >> you call it murder. >> murder. >> would there be justice for these victims? >> i'm so disappointed right now, i don't know what i would say.
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after investigators were tipped off by whistleblower george karache, prosecutor barbara mcquade's office wasted no time in trying to get to the bottom of what had been going on inside dr. fata's cancer clinics. it turns out he was one of the top medicare billers in the entire country. >> as we reviewed files and tried to make sense of his strategy with treating each patient, each time we looked at it, the only strategy that made sense is how do you maximize his payment. and then when we looked at it through that lens, it made sense. >> after just a few days, federal agents raided dr. fata's clinics, froze his bank accounts, and put him in handcuffs.
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you had enough to charge him, but did you realize at that moment, the day he was arrested, how egregious this all was? >> well, as the investigation went on, it became even more apparent how egregious it was, the depth and scope of it. >> it turns out there were hundreds of victims who were overtreated with poisonous drugs, or who were treated for a cancer they never had. the government's final total -- at least 553. you have built a lot of your career chasing fraud. how does this rank? >> this is the most egregious case of fraud i've seen in my life and that i'm aware of in the entire country. >> her team determined that dr. fata billed medicare for $525 million, and lined his own pocket with $17.6 million from fraudulent payments from the government and insurance companies. >> he was reinvesting his dollars in many of his clinics.
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he had grown from one to six clinics. he built his own radiation treatment facility and a pharmacy, all of those facilities helped enable his scheme because he could refer his patients to his own clinics for those unnecessary treatments. >> was that also part of how he was able to shield himself by keeping everyone inside his sphere? >> i think that was part of the scheme. and also part of the scheme for maximizing profits. if he's sending people to his own pharmacy or radiation treatment facility or own testing center, fewer questions from the outside about why someone needs those treatments. >> and questions that were asked on the inside were explained away? >> well, people often, didn't inside people know this. at one point when he was questioned about something he called a maintenance protocol about whether that was necessary, he fabricated his own study and showed it to his colleagues and said look, this is the pco
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so his lies knew no boundaries. >> she charged him with health care fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. he pleaded guilty to 16 counts. what keeps many victims up at night is that dr. fata was never charged with a crime directly related to the harm he caused them. you say murder, the prosecutors call it fraud. >> plat out murder. >> it was fraud, however, it's more than that. he disabled so many people. just the fraud as far as i'm concerned is a very small part of it. >> why fraud? why not murder. >> we didn't have a statute that we could use. also, there is no evidence that he intentionally set up to kill people. so we did the next best thing, which is charging him with statutes that exposed him to life in prison. >> you couldn't find evidence that he was giving this to kill people
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i think his goal was to prolong their lives as long as possible and use them as a commodity to make money. >> the victims also asked specific questions about dr. fata's wife, samar, who ran the business side of the practice. samar fata declined to speak with "dateline," as did her husband. she left their home in michigan and is now living in this house in lebanon, according to relatives. and she recently filed for divorce. was she ever a suspect in all of this? >> certainly a suspect, but many people have suspected her involvement. we never found any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. >> some of the victims we spoke to have filed civil lawsuits against dr. fata and his clinics. some of the suits name affiliated hospitals, and all the health care professionals working in fata's clinics, including dr. maunglay and mary saturley. those suits have not been resolved. but it's the s a
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didn't take any action after the complaint that has drawn ire from dr. fata's victims. >> for all we understand, the government ignored the report. you know, she could have broken the case right there and saved a lot of lives. >> long before you came into the picture. >> yes. and it didn't happen. >> the bureau of professional licensing told "dateline" there was not enough information available at the time to substantiate angela's allegation. in a statement -- investigators have recovered about $13 million of dr. fata's $17.6 million in fraudulent profits. whistleblower george karache and his attorney are entitled to $1.7 million in that money for alerting federal authorities.
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the rest is slated to go to the victims. individuals are waiting to hear how much, if any, restitution they will receive. last july, they were able to have their day in court. one by one, they stood before the judge and told their stories with dr. fata just a few feet away. >> the day of sentencing was very, very tough for me. to listen to people reiterate who they were and where they are now. >> after the two dozen victims spoke, dr. fata appealed to the judge, saying tearfully, i misused my talents because of power and greed. i ask the court for mercy. if it was an apology, monica's husband steve wasn't moved. >> total waste of time. to hear him crying, and then sit down and stop crying immediately, first thoughts is it was a show. >> prosecutors asked for the maximum under the law,
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to the dismay of many victims, the judge decided to send the 50-year-old to prison for 45 years. >> this is seemingly a very light sentence for the magnitude of this crime and the people that's affected. >> i'm so disappointed, i don't know what i would say. >> fata is behind bars, and has appealed. and monica realized how lucky she is, after a broken leg, and a twist of fate. if you hadn't broken your leg, if dr. maunglay hadn't looked at your charts, a lot of this may not have unfolded this way. how do you process that? >> obviously i thank god i broke my leg. it shouldn't have happened. i have tripped and fallen on things before. i'm very active. and how i broke my leg that day is a gift from god
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>> that's all for this edition i' thanks for joining us. this sunday. the republican establishment has tried persuasion. >> mr. trump is a con man, a fake. >> it's tried schoolyard tactics. >> and you know what they say about men with small hands. >> and still, donald trump keeps winning. but last night, more ugliness at a rally. [ shouting ] >> as trump warns of violence if he's denied the nomination. >> i think you'd have riots. >> but can he stopped? democrats cry foul. >> the senate will continue to observe the biden rule so that e
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