At a meeting of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation on Tuesday, State Attorney Dave Aronberg explained how he has spent the $275,000 lawmakers gave him to probe corruption in the drug treatment industry but warned that if the funding is not renewed, proactive efforts to combat corruption will likely end.
“Our criminal investigations will continue beyond the appropriation,” Aronberg said, adding that the funding will stop on June 30, 2017. “The only difference will be that we will probably be back in a reactive mode as opposed to the task force being able to get in front of this.”
Aronberg did not make a pitch for a specific amount of money. Instead, he asked local lawmakers to watch the actions of the task force. Since its start on July 1, the task force has made seven arrests: two treatment providers and five sober home operators. All have been charged with multiple counts of patient brokering.
The task force has also drafted legislation which it hopes local lawmakers will sponsor and suggested tweaks to existing laws and regulations, Aronberg said.
“You’ve seen stories on all the unnecessary lives lost because of the heroin crisis,” Aronberg said, holding up a copy of the Nov. 20 front page of the Post, which displayed the faces of the 216 people who died of heroin-related overdoses in 2015.
Aronberg’s experience with cracking down on drugs dates back to his tenure as the state’s Drug Czar during the pill mill crisis a decade ago. Aronberg admitted that he knew that closing the pill mills would create a heroin crisis.
“Government doesn’t always do a good job of preventing,” Aronberg said. “It does a better job of reacting.”
However, Aronberg said he wants to be prepared for the by-product of the sober home crackdown: Homelessness.
“Once we shut down a lot of these sober homes, we’re going to have a homeless problem,” Aronberg said. Already, he has begun talks with the county commission about housing for addicts left homeless.
“Keep in mind, this could be the next front in this fight,” Aronberg said.
The Task Force has three units: Law enforcement, secret group that meets monthly to discuss criminal investigations; A proviso group, that has examined existing laws and regulations and will suggest changes; and the Sober Home Task Force, made up of sober home operators, treatment providers and the public.
Aronberg said some of the money went to hire a full-time investigator and criminal analyst. Aronberg has also assigned a prosecutor to work exclusively on corruption.
“I think Palm Beach County is going to be a leader in this effort,” Aronberg said. “We are creating a model that others can follow.”