We first exposed Kenny Chatman. He tried to sue us for it.

When The Palm Beach Post first wrote about corrupt drug treatment center owner Kenny Chatman – a year before his arrest – the story exposed Chatman as a liar, fraud and potential sex trafficker.

Apparently, Chatman didn’t like it.

Kenneth Chatman walks into Reflections, his treatment center in Margate, in 2015.

Court files show that he had lawyer Jeffrey Cohen, of the Florida Healthcare Law Firm, run up $5,000 in billings investigating whether to sue The Palm Beach Post for defamation.

Cohen had a fellow lawyer pull the police records The Post cited in its story. He also called four different South Florida lawyers who specialize in defamation cases to try to get them on board.

“Teleconference with Benny Lebdecker (sic) re meeting to discuss possible lawsuit against Palm Beach Post,” reads one entry in Cohen’s list of billable hours.

“Discussions with Attorney Bruce Rogow re Palm Beach Post article and retention of his services,” reads another.

Chatman and his treatment center’s medical director, Barry Gregory, teleconferenced with Cohen multiple times between December 2015, when The Post’s article ran, and January 2016, the records show.

Ultimately, Chatman never pursued a lawsuit against The Post, and in December, he was arrested by the FBI. He pleaded guilty to conspiracies to commit sex trafficking, money laundering and health care fraud, and last week was given a 27-year sentence in federal prison.

RELATED: ‘Kenny Chatman kidnapped me:’ Read one woman’s human trafficking story

Gregory pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and false statements regarding health care matters, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

Normally, such billable hours are rarely made public, especially if a case doesn’t go to trial. So how did The Post find out about it?

Chatman racked up more than $5,000 in legal fees with Cohen – a relative pittance considering Chatman built his fraudulent treatment centers into multimillion-dollar operations.

But Chatman never paid the bills, and last year, Cohen sued him over it. The billable hours were included in the lawsuit. Chatman quickly paid up. (Read the bills here.)

When asked about it in March, after Chatman pleaded guilty, Cohen said he couldn’t talk about it, since Chatman was a former client.

Cohen has taken a contrarian view on some of the issues surrounding the addiction treatment industry. He’s been one of the few people to publicly criticize the efforts of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force, which has arrested more than a dozen people in the industry for fraud and recommended widespread legislative reforms.

“They’re trying to kill cockroaches with shotguns,” he told The Post in March. “The way in which they’re going about it, sometimes, is eyebrow-raising.”

(He’s also been critical of The Post’s extensive coverage of South Florida’s drug treatment industry, calling it “a story in search of a villain.”)

Whether or not a lawsuit against The Post would have been successful is obviously unknown. But the Chatman story, like all the big stories by the paper’s investigative team, are thoroughly reviewed for potential libel issues by The Post’s lawyers.

‘Kenny Chatman kidnapped me’: Read one woman’s human trafficking story

Corrupt drug treatment operator Kenny Chatman will be sentenced Wednesday, and for the past few weeks, parents and victims have been writing letters to U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks, telling him that they believe Chatman killed their children or furthered their addictions.

But perhaps none of the letters is as chilling as one filed with the court Monday, from a woman who says Chatman kidnapped her and forced her into prostitution. Then, after she escaped and told police, she says Chatman confronted her again and forced her to sign a sworn statement recanting.

Chatman has admitted to many of the details mentioned in the letter, and he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, along with conspiracies to commit money laundering and health care fraud. He faces up to life in prison.

The woman’s letter is so chilling that The Palm Beach Post is choosing to publish it in its entirety:

My name is (redacted)

I’m 22 years old. I came down to Florida in 2013 for substance abuse treatment. I’ve been struggling with addiction since I was 11 years old.

I first met Kenny Chatman in 2015 at age 19. Kenny Chatman kidnapped me. I was brought to the house by some of the men that worked for him, as well as himself. Upon entering the house I was punched in the face and lost consciousness.

When I woke up at the house, there were restraints on my wrists and ankles attached to a bed post. There were other girls present at the house, severely under the influence, almost to the point of unconsciousness. They took all my belongings, including my clothes. They IV drugged me with an unknown sedative. And from that point on, men came in and paid him money to rape me.

He had me extremely intoxicated on unknown sedatives and substances that I was going in and out of consciousness but was completely aware of myself being raped, molested, emotionally, mentally physically, sexually abused, and verbally demeaned.

I recall close to 150 in total different faces of rapists abusing me daily over a period of 3-4 weeks. I was unrestrained for brief periods, only to be cleaned up of bodily fluids. I thought I was going to die there, in fact, I was convinced after several days.

After roughly 4 weeks of enduring countless abusive and sexual acts being performed against my will, I managed to jump out of a window while unrestrained and escape in solely a tshirt. I flagged down a car, and went home.

I later contacted local authorities and made a full police report naming Kenny Chatman as the perpetrator and captor. I was contacted by the FBI and detectives of the local police force to question me and get information from me about what happened.

This event has completely changed my life in every way. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and even in relationships with others. I’m terrified of men. I can’t have a normal intimate relationship yet. I have constant night terrors and flashbacks to this day of the events that have happened to me because of this man.

I have struggled to stay sober since these events took place in 2015, which is extremely upsetting since I had close to 2 years sober prior to it. After these events I was placed back in treatment and am still to this day receiving countless hours of trauma therapy, as well as addiction counseling. I’ve done over a year of EMDR therapy.

Long after I came forward with these events, I was confronted by Kenny Chatman again and forced into a vehicle and threatened and taken to a notary and forced to sign a document recanting my previous statements against him.

Once again, I was paralyzed with fear. In a place where you are supposed to feel the safest, TREATMENT, I experienced some of the most gruesome acts that I can think of.

Today, my hope is that justice will be served and Kenny Chatman is permanently removed from the streets so not only can he not get me again, but so he can’t do this to other human beings.

What happens to addicts if Obamacare and the Drug Czar get the boot?

Last week was not a good week for addicts. 

The House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – could be catastrophic for those with substance use disorders. The Senate still must approve it but provisions in the House version could allow insurance companies to refuse to cover and charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions.

If you are an addict that’s been to rehab six or seven times – each time covered by insurance because of Obamacare – you have a pre-existing condition – big time. States would have the option to waive an Obamacare mandate that prohibits insurance companies from charging higher rates to those with pre-existing conditions. 

 That means you are going to pay more – probably a lot more – for insurance because you have a very expensive, pre-existing condition (addiction) that has a high rate of recurrence (relapse.)

But don’t worry. If you can’t get insurance because your state opted out of Obamacare’ pre-existing condition mandate, you will be able to purchase insurance from your state’s high risk pool. Guess how much THAT will cost. Bigly.

The House plan also allows states to opt out of another Obamacare mandate that insurance companies must cover essential, basic benefits like maternity care, preventive tests and, you guessed it, substance use disorders. State’s will be allowed to set their own standards. 

So, getting covered for your substance use disorder will depend on where you live and how strong the insurance lobby is in your state, 

I have more bad news.

The Trump Administration’s proposal to cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from $388 million to $24 million – effectively dismantles the ONDCP – also known as the office of the Drug Czar. POLITICO reported the proposal last week, along with comments from Rafael Lemaitre, formerly a senior official with the drug policy office across three administrations. 

“These moves fly in the face of President Trump’s promise to address the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Lemaitre. “This is an epidemic that steals as many lives as the Vietnam War took during the entire conflict, and Trump’s moves remove some of the most effective tools.”

Trump strategy to fulfill his campaign promise to fix the opioid crisis was outlined in an executive order that created a temporary White House opioids commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

The drug commission is part of the new White House Office of American Innovation, chaired by the president’s 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner, Under Kushner, the office is responsible for overhauling the federal bureaucracy. 

According to a report by PBS Newshour, the commission will:

  • Identify existing federal dollars to combat drug addiction, including opioids;
  • Assess availability and access to addiction treatment centers and overdose reversal and identify underserved areas;
  • Measure the effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs;
  • Evaluate public messaging campaigns about prescription and illegal opioids, and identify best practices for drug prevention.

The commission must file its report by Oct. 1. Then it will disband. No one knows what – if anything – will replace it. 

Can Negron get sober home marketing bill on the calendar in time?

Hours after declaring the opioid overdose epidemic a public health crisis, Gov. Rick Scott said he was not aware that a bill targeting corruption in the drug treatment industry had not been called up for a final vote in the Senate.

Palm Beach County chief assistant state attorney Al Johnson, left, and State Attorney Dave Aronberg announce that a grand jury has issued 15 recommendations to combat the opioid crisis in Palm Beach County on December 12, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Although SB 788 unanimously passed its four committee stops and its House companion, HB 807, cleared the floor on Monday with a unanimous vote, Senate leaders have not scheduled the bill for a final vote.

Unknown is whether Republican Senate President Joe Negron has or will act on the bill. 

The Senate’s refusal to hear the bill has the bill’s drafters and backers shaking their heads and scrambling. The halt in the bill’s trajectory is also baffling because it is the byproduct of the legislature’s own directive to tighten laws governing the drug treatment industry.

Last year lawmakers gave Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg $250,000 to investigate corruption and propose legislative solutions.

Aronberg created the Sober Home Task Force and appointed Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson to lead efforts to prosecute and propose legislation. The task force has made 21 arrests since October. Johnson held more than a dozen public meetings to craft new legislation.

Those proposals were drafted into HB 807 and SB 788.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Johnson, who is in Tallahasee with Aronberg.

 

 

 

Opioid epidemic: Rick Scott declares public health emergency

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a statewide public health emergency over the opioid epidemic, in response to multiple requests for help from local leaders.

Scott’s decision came after the last of four state workshops on the opioid crisis this morning in Duval County. State officials held their first workshop Monday in West Palm Beach followed by two on Tuesday in Manatee and Orange counties.

Many people who attended the workshops called for him to declare a public health emergency.

“Finally,” said Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who made the first request for a public health emergency back in February.

“Today I feel relief. relief that the voices of so many were finally heard. For the pain of loss so many families have faced, to those struggling to overcome addition,” she said.

“I am hopeful that the governor’s direction to declare a public health crisis in response to the opioid epidemic will open the door to a truly meaningful plan to fight this disease.”

McKinlay’s request, which triggered other leaders to send similar requests, came after The Palm Beach Post published a special section examining the crisis. That section, Heroin: Killer of a generation, was published days after the daughter of McKinlay’s chief aide died of a drug overdose.

“This emergency declaration is important to combat the epidemic in our communities,” said Jupiter Vice Mayor Ilan Kaufer, who helped spearhead a declaration request by the Palm Beach County League of Cities in March.

“I am thankful to all the local leaders and community members who supported efforts to let the Governor know how important this step was in saving lives.”

Check back later for updates on this developing story.

Here is a press release issued minutes ago by Scott’s office:

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring a national opioid epidemic, Governor Rick Scott signed Executive Order 17-146 directing a Public Health Emergency across the state. By signing the Emergency Order, it will allow the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Opioid State Targeted Response Grant which was awarded to Florida on April 21 to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Without the order, it would have taken months for the state to distribute these funds to local communities. In addition to declaring a Public Health Emergency, Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip will issue a standing order for Naloxen, an emergency treatment for opioid overdose. This will ensure first responders have immediate access to this lifesaving drug to respond to opioid overdoses.

 

Governor Scott said, “Today, I issued an executive order which allows the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding which will immediately be distributed to communities across the state to deal with the opioid epidemic. HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price awarded the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant to Florida and I want to thank the Trump Administration for their focus on this national epidemic. I have also directed State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare a Public Health Emergency and issue a standing order for Naloxone in response to the opioid epidemic in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott

“Last month, I directed the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange Counties to identify additional strategies to fight the rising opioid usage cases in Florida. They have gotten a lot of feedback this week and we will continue to look at additional ways we can fight this national epidemic which has taken the lives of many Floridians.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up. The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help. Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “This declaration will help strengthen our continued efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic claiming lives in Florida by providing additional funding to secure prevention, treatment and recovery support services. I want to thank Governor Rick Scott for his continued partnership in combating drug abuse in our state; from shutting down pill mills to outlawing deadly synthetic drugs, Governor Scott has long supported efforts by my office and law enforcement to raise awareness, stop drug abuse and save lives.”

 

Florida Surgeon General: Why Zika declared emergency but not heroin crisis

Florida Surgeon General said she has not ruled out declaring a public health emergency for the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Celeste Philip said a public health emergency declaration must be linked to an action plan to address the emergency. That, she added, is why the four-stop listening tour she is on with other top agency officials is so important. Hearing how the hardest hit communities are dealing with the crisis will help in creating that plan, she said.

“Nothing is off the table,” Dr. Philip said in an interview after the second stop on the tour in Sarasota on Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ordered the tour in response to rising death rates and calls for him to declare a public health crisis.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip

Asked why she quickly issued a public health emergency when mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were discovered in Florida, she said it was because it was easier to draft a plan to prevent spread of the virus: Kill mosquitoes that carry it. 

The opioid crisis is much more complex, she said: “We’re dealing with two different kinds of situations. The opioid crisis is very complex.”

In her comments in West Palm Beach and Sarasota, Dr. Philip emphasized the need to educate physicians and medical students about the hazards of prescribing opioids and alternative protocols to manage pain. In particular, pressing medical schools to develop curriculum about addiction and pain management – topics that were barely addressed during her medical training. 

The tour began Monday at the West Palm Beach Police Department, where Dr. Philip, DCF Sec. Mike Carrol and over a dozen other state officials were greeted by protesters demanding action. About 250 recovering addicts, advocates and friends and family of overdose victims crammed into a meeting room at the department.

By contrast, Tuesday’s meeting in Sarasota was quiet. No protests or cat-calls from the crowd of about 100 during the 2-hour meeting. The group headed to Orlando for another meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The final meeting is in Jacksonville on Wednesday.