Adviser for notorious treatment center sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison

A former clinical director at the notorious drug rehab center run by Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison today.

Barry Gregory was responsible for overseeing patients’ treatment plans at Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center. But he largely turned a blind eye to problems there; he admitted in February to signing orders for patients to take urine and saliva tests that weren’t necessary, and he ordered DNA and allergy tests regardless of whether patients complained of allergies.

Dr. Barry Gregory, former clinical director for Reflections Treatment Center

He also said that as many as 90 percent of Reflections’ patients were actively using drugs.

Gregory pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and knowingly falsifying a matter involving health care programs.

He joins six other people, including Chatman’s wife, who have pleaded guilty to various federal crimes related to Chatman’s drug treatment centers.

Chatman, first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post story, created Reflections in a central Broward County strip mall in 2013. In Palm Beach County, he ran a series of sober homes that were notorious drug dens. He admitted last month to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes, pimping them out on websites like Craigslist and Backpage.

Chatman built Reflections into a multi-million dollar treatment center, and Gregory, a licensed mental health counselor, was instrumental in making that happen.

Chatman hired him in July 2015 to a position where Gregory would oversee addicts’ treatment and counseling. But Chatman was the one who dictated which patients were admitted and how they were treated, Gregory admitted.

When he was hired, Reflections was still on probation with the Department of Children and Family Services. Gregory was the one who filled out the forms to get Reflections fully licensed. To do so, he helped hide the business under Chatman’s wife’s name; because Chatman was a felon, he couldn’t legally own or operate a treatment center.

When Chatman wanted to open up a second treatment center, Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth, Gregory again helped him fill out the forms, knowing that Chatman, and not Laura, was the real owner of the business.

Federal prosecutors said Gregory has shown remorse for his actions.

“While the defendant has not yet completed his cooperation, he has fully accepted responsibility, recognized his wrongdoing and shown true remorse, and assisted significantly in the investigation,” federal prosecutors wrote in a recent filing.

Chatman and his wife are scheduled to be sentenced May 17. He faces up to life behind bars. His wife, Laura, faces up to 10 years in prison.

 

Kenny Chatman allies sentenced to prison

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Kenny Chatman walks to his Reflections Treatment Center in Margate in December 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

More co-defendants of recovery industry pariah Kenny Chatman were sentenced to federal prison on Monday, but Chatman’s lawyer said he’ll need another month to figure out how to defend his client in sentencing.

On Monday, three of Chatman’s team were sentenced to a combined 12-1/2 years in federal prison. They pled guilty in a case in which Chatman is charged with supplying drugs to patients in his treatment program and sober homes and turning some into prostitutes.

Fransesia “Francine” Davis, who acted as a house mother at Chatman’s sober homes, was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison. Michael Bonds, who sent his own patients to Chatman’s corrupt treatment centers in exchange for payments, was given 4.75 years in prison. Stefan Gatt, who processed fraudulent urine samples from Chatman’s patients, was given an 18-month sentence.

Chatman has pleaded guilty in the case, but may not be sentenced until mid-June. His attorney, Saam Zangeneh, said he needs more time to read a sentencing of 300 paragraphs that includes “a slew of (sentencing) enhancements that are outside the scope of the plea agreement,” Zangeneh wrote Monday.

Kenny Chatman faces life in prison. His wife, Laura, faces 10 years in prison.

In a request for a lighter sentence, Bonds said he’d helped lead investigators to several arrests in his federal case and nine people in state court cases. His lawyer said  he expected federal prosecutors agree to a lighter sentence. Instead, they filed paperwork last week calling for a full sentence of 4.75 years in prison – not far above the 48 months he got.

Bonds and Gatt were also sentenced to three years’ probation and Davis to one year probation. Each must also pay an undetermined amount of restitution, federal records show. All three pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, while Davis also faced a charge of using a house to distribute drugs.

Chatman defendant: Feds, state target sober homes together

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A recruiter for Kenny Chatman‘s drug treatment centers says his cooperation with state and local investigators led to about a dozen arrests.

A new federal court filing for Michael Bonds shows how defendants in several cases are being used against each other, as well as cooperation between federal and state officials trying to crack down on South Florida’s corruption-plagued sober home industry. Bonds’ attorney, Paul Walsh of West Palm Beach, said in a filing that he expects federal officials will also ask for leniency in the case because of Bonds’ cooperation.

Walsh wrote that in exchange for Bonds’ cooperation, Bonds and his wife have feared for their safety because of implied threats, “including a call from an individual whom Bonds provided information about, telling Bonds that he would ‘get his.'”

Bonds pleaded guilty in February to taking $240,000 from Chatman for referring patients to Chatman’s treatment centers. Chatman, Bonds and four other associates were arrested Dec. 21. The filing says Bonds has been helping investigators since August, and “has continuously provided assistance whenever called upon and as needed by the government.”

How far did that cooperation go? The filing says Bonds has been working with officials, including a Delray Beach Police Department investigator, to yield “results that are useful to the government.” A grammatically troubled sentence says he offered help on people in the recovery industry, and “This information led to prior to the arrest of at least nine individuals in State court and several individuals in this [federal] matter.”

Bonds is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Monday in federal district court in West Palm Beach. He had been running Redemption Sober House Inc., and was getting about $500 a week for each patient he supplied to Chatman.

Chatman is scheduled to be sentenced next month. He admitted in federal court that he’d turned patients into prostitutes and, when they were supposed to be recovering from drugs, fueled their addiction.

While immediate associates of Chatman have been prosecuted in federal court, the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has arrested at least 20 people for prosecution in state courts.

Addicts to get needles from vending machines in Las Vegas

In an unprecedented approach to curb the spread of diseases and infections caused by sharing needles, health officials in Las Vegas are using vending machines to dispense clean syringes to addicts.

But unlike vending machines that dispense candy and snacks, no money is needed. Addicts participating in the pilot project scan a card and enter a unique ID number in order to vend one of the colorfully gift-wrapped boxes. Each box contains syringes, alcohol wipes, safe-sex supplies and a sharps disposal box.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

People using the new needle exchange vending machines must register through Trac-B Exchange, a storefront harm reduction program aimed to prevent infectious disease. The machines will be available at three locations by the end of May.

Besides providing intravenous drug users with access to sterile needles and disposal of used ones, the program serves as a gateway to services and care that addicts may not access otherwise.

Justin Kunzelman, CEO and co-founder of Rebel Recovery Florida in West Palm Beach, said vending machine needle exchanges are the “most objective and honest,” harm reduction programs because they are unmanned.

Lawmakers worry that by endorsing needle-exchange programs it will appear that they are helping addicts use drugs, Kunzelman said. To avoid that, they impose conditions on needle exchanges that discourage addicts, such as requiring them to provide personal information, get tested for other diseases and receive counseling.

Vending machines don’t ask questions, he added.

“It’s a machine,” Kunzelman said. “It’s not asking you how many times you have been arrested, what’s your sexual orientation – all of the things that come along inherently when the legislature passes acts.”

Nevada is the first U.S. state to launch a vending machine program for clean syringes, but the vending machine model has been in use for several years in Puerto Rico, Europe, and Australia.

In Indiana, after roughly 200 people contracted HIV from sharing needles, Vice President Mike Pence – then the governor – lifted a ban on needle exchanges in 2015 in affected counties.

Still, many communities and states prohibit needle exchange programs even though they are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Florida, where Dade and Broward counties led the nation in new HIV cases in 2014, the Legislature allowed last year the University of Miami to establish a pilot needle-exchange program.

But lawmakers refused to pay for it. And everywhere else in the state, including Palm Beach County, supplying addicts with clean syringes is a third-degree felony.

With more addicts dying of overdoses than ever before, some policy makers are warming to the idea of needle exchanges and other harm reduction programs that encourage recovery.

When the Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force began meeting in June 2016, Kunzelman’s efforts to discuss needle exchanges ended when he stopped talking. Today, it is among topics discussed.

At its April 4 special meeting on the opioid epidemic, Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick suggested the county explore a needle exchange program and how the county might pay for it.

Kunzelman and several other harm-reduction advocates met with Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso last week and intend to bring up a needle exchange during the Governor’s 90-minute workshop on the opioid crisis on May 1.

“They’re still getting used to the idea that current policies aren’t working,” Kunzelman said. “I think it will take awhile.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CDC highlights speed, deadliness of fentanyl

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Hypodermic needles were found at a West Palm Beach rental property. Such needles are often used for illegal drugs. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control emphasizes just how quickly illicit street fentanyl can kill drug users, and the report suggests moves that are politically unpopular — such as illegal drug “shooting galleries” in supervised injection locations — can save lives.

The CDC interviewed 64 people in Massachusetts, nearly all of whom had witnessed an overdose in the previous six months; two-fifths of those people also had overdosed themselves. One person warned about how much worse fentanyl was than heroin:

“A person overdosing on regular dope leans back and drops and then suddenly stops talking in the middle of a conversation and you look over and realize they’re overdosing. Not like with fentanyl. I would say you notice it as soon as they are done [injecting]. They don’t even have time to pull the needle out and they’re on the ground.”

And fentanyl is increasing faster than authorities can deal with it. In six months, fentanyl went from being present in about two-fifths of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts to almost four-fifths. And that data is already two years old. The CDC report warns that the report doesn’t include fentanyl analogs, which can be far stronger.

Palm Beach County wasn’t testing for drugs like carfentanil, a horrifically strong elephant tranquilizer, until last year. The drug helped double the number of Palm Beach County opioid overdoses last year, with carfentanil being found in at least 109 bodies. Carfentanil is said to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

Overdoses with fentanyl and especially carfentanil are much harder to reverse using drugs like Narcan and its generic, naloxone. The CDC notes that multiple doses of Narcan are often required. One example of a man trying to save a woman’s life:

“So he put half up one [nostril] and half up the other nose, like they trained us to do, and she didn’t come to. So he put water on her face and kind of slapped her, which doesn’t really make you come to. It doesn’t. So he pulled out another thing of Narcan and he put half of it up one nose and then she came to. … She just didn’t remember anything. She said, ‘What happened? I remember washing my hands and, like, what happened?’ We said, ‘You just overdosed in this room!’ So yeah, it was wicked scary.”

How fast? The CDC itself reported that “Rapidity of overdose death was determined from available evidence, including needles inserted in decedents’ bodies, syringes found in hand, tourniquets still in place, and bystander reports of rapid unconsciousness after drug use.” Lips immediately turned blue; people started gurgling or having something like seizures.

The CDC recommended some ways to reduce deaths, including expanding access to evidence-based treatment. Palm Beach County has lost publicly funded beds, and some privately funded treatment centers reportedly provided drugs to their clients, who sometimes were turned into prostitutes.

The CDC report also pointed to high numbers of overdoses away from people who could help sufficiently. Some 18 percent were away from bystanders; 58 percent were in another room of the house; 24 percent didn’t know about the drug use; 12 percent themselves were intoxicated; 11 percent didn’t recognize overdose symptom and 15 percent thought the person had just gone to sleep. All that means high-quality interventions are few and far between:  “Clear evidence that a bystander was unimpaired, witnessed the drug consumption and was present during an overdose (i.e., able to respond immediately) was reported in 1% of the fentanyl overdose decedent charts,” the CDC reported.

The CDC suggested harm reduction services can help. “The high percentage of fatal overdoses occurring at home with no naloxone present, coupled with the rapid onset of overdose symptoms after using fentanyl through injection or insufflation, underscores the the urgent need to expand initiatives to link persons at high risk for overdose (such as persons using heroin, persons with past overdoses, or persons recently released from incarceration) to harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment.”

The CDC then cites a journal article on supervised injection services.

Justin Kunzelman, president of Rebel Recovery Florida, said the thousands of young people dying will only increase the pressure on government to allow, and support, harm reduction strategies.

“I don’t think people are going to give politicians a choice,” he said.

Kunzelman said because of the increasing overdose risk, more people are carrying Narcan, and, often, higher and more doses of the drug.

“Generation Heroin” inspires dance performance Sunday in Boynton Beach

The opioid epidemic is the topic of an improvisational modern dance performance that will be included Sunday in Boynton Beach at a festival for First Amendment rights.

Gaynelle Gosselin said she was inspired to curate the performance piece, called “State of Emergency,” after seeing The Palm Beach Post’s Generation Heroin special section on Nov. 20.

The newspaper’s front page that day included the faces off all 216 people who died of an accidental opioid-related overdose in Palm Beach County in 2015.

“State of Emergency” — which will be performed around 6 p.m. Sunday during the KeroWacked Festival in the Boynton Beach Art District — is set to a poem entitled, “And I Listened” by Shannon Willis.

Scattered among the verses is a reading of names of lives lost to addiction and overdose.

Local actor and recovery advocate Gary Kimble will be performing the verse, while James Fata, local recovery advocate and chapter lead for Young People In Recovery lists the names of those we have lost.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, center, talks with Linda Mautner, left and Gaynelle Gosselin, right, in West Palm Beach in 2014. Mautner’s 20-year-old son his own life in July and she believes his Kratom addiction was a contributing factor in his death. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Gosselin, co-Founder of See Change Dance will dance in remembrance. Community members are invited to participate and hold banners inscribed with a name and a memory of someone they’ve lost to substance use disorder and/or accidental overdose.

The intent, Gosselin said, is to humanize an epidemic that killed nearly 600 people in Palm Beach County last year as well as thousands across the United States.

“These are people, not statistics,’’ she said. “Their lives matter. The performance is a call to compassionate action toward stopping this modern day plague.’’

The festival starts at noon and ends at 10 p.m., said organizer Rolando Chang Barrero.

 

Governor’s opioid workshop in Palm Beach County set for May 1

Palm Beach County will be the first of four counties visited by state officials next month in their plan to seek ideas for combating the opioid crisis.

Palm Beach County’s “community workshop” is set for May 1, according to an email from the Department of children and Families.

It will be held from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the West Palm Beach Police headquarters, 600 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Two counties will have workshops on May 2 — Manatee and Orange counties. Duval County’s workshop will be May 3.

The workshops, announced Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, will be hosted by DCF, the state Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Similar to many communities across the nation, Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval, and Orange counties are facing an increase in opioid-related deaths,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said in an email sent to local officials.

“DCF, DOH, and FDLE will host community workshops with local leaders, law enforcement, health directors, treatment providers and community members.

“Community workshops will provide important opportunities for DCF, DOH and FDLE to directly hear the specific needs of affected communities as well as provide information on existing resources, best parctices and grant opportunities.”

 

 

Opioid crisis: Sen. Marco Rubio pledges to help in meeting with Palm Beach County leaders

Sen. Marco Rubio met in West Palm Beach today with local leaders to discuss “the devastation caused by opioid addiction in our communities.’’

The private meeting, held in State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office with members of the Palm Beach County’s heroin and sober homes task forces, covered the rise in opioid deaths, addiction treatment needs and sober home issues.

Sen. Marco Rubio (to the right of the American flag) with Palm Beach County leaders at the State Attorney’s office in West Palm Beach today. (Photo courtesy Sen. Marco Rubio)

“It’s important that we continue working together with state and local officials to identify and root out fraud and hold bad providers accountable, so that the people who seek help aren’t being taken advantage of,’’ Rubio said in a statement.

“And we must do more to stop the flow of fentanyl and carfentanil across our borders, which is what the bipartisan legislation I’ve introduced with my colleagues in the Senate would address.’’

Attendees included Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath; Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department; Palm Beach County commissioner Melissa McKinlay; Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Houston Park; and West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio.

“This epidemic requires all hands on deck and I appreciate Senator Rubio’s commitment to partner with our Task Force and local leaders on this effort,’’ Aronberg said in a statement.

Marco Rubio (AP Photo)

Rubio is co-sponsoring federal grants, through the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, to help local governments and certain nonprofits in Florida intervene with people suffering from substance abuse. The grant deadline is April 25.

McKinlay, who has helped lead the fight for local help with the crisis, said Rubio told attendees he would try to get federal money for pilot programs to ease the opioid crisis.

He also said he would talk to the Department of Justice about more help for local communities seeking to enact local laws aimed at protecting neighborhoods from rogue sober homes.

“I was very inspired about how educated he was on the issues,’’ McKinlay said.

Rick Scott, Pam Bondi to hold press conference on Florida’s opioid epidemic

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Governor Rick Scott will hold a joint news conference about Florida’s opioid epidemic at 4 p.m. today in the state Capitol in front of the Attorney General’s Office.

It is not known exactly what Bondi and Scott will discuss.

The press conference can be seen online at The Florida Channel.

Check back for updates.

Several local leaders and agencies have asked Scott in recent months to declare a public health emergency to help communities deal with the crisis.

Bondi last month was appointed by President Trump to a White House commission to combat drug addiction.

 

 

 

 

 

Mass. warns addicts about Florida drug-treatment recruiters

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has issued a consumer advisory, warning of unscrupulous marketers “trying to recruit Massachusetts residents with substance use disorder to travel to so-called treatment centers in Arizona, California and Florida.”

According to the advisory,  the recruiters often use texts or social media to recruit patients. Some offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

The Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has targeted such practices as inducements, which violate Florida’s anti-kickback and patient brokering laws.

Recruiters who target Massachusetts addicts often use texts or social media to recruit patients and offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

“According to some reports, the out-of-state treatment centers provide little or no care to the patients,” the advisory states. “In other instances, the recruiters have stopped paying insurance premiums, which has resulted in patients getting removed from treatment facilities and stranded out of state without access to housing, health care, or the financial resources to return to Massachusetts.”

The advisory makes the following recommendations to addicts contacted by marketers for out-of-state treatment facilities.

  • Be wary of unsolicited referrals to out-of-state treatment facilities. Anyone seeking to arrange for addiction treatment out-of-state may be getting paid by the treatment center.
  • Anyone paid a referral fee for recommending a particular treatment center does not have your best interests in mind.
  • Be wary of anyone offering to pay for your insurance coverage.  They can stop paying your premiums at any time, which will result in the cancellation of your insurance.
  • If you accept an offer by someone to pay for travel to an out-of-state clinic, make sure you have a plan and the means to pay for a trip back home.
  • Be careful about giving your personal information – including your social security number or insurance number – to a recruiter, unless you can confirm that the person is employed by a medical provider or insurance company.
  • If someone is offering to arrange travel or cover insurance costs for treatment, call the treatment facility or your insurance company to confirm that the person is an employee.