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.
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.
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.”
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.