Owner of notorious drug treatment center pleads guilty today

Drug treatment center owner Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to recruit persons into sexual acts, a charge that could send him to prison for life.

His wife, Laura Chatman, pleaded guilty to two counts of falsifying and covering up the ownership of the treatment centers. She applied for state licensure for the facilities even though her husband, a felon, was the one owning and operating them. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Their sentencing will be May 17 at 10 a.m.

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

Chatman had been charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. His wife had been charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and multiple counts of money laundering.

Chatman owned Reflections Treatment Center in central Broward County and operated sober homes throughout Palm Beach County. The places were notorious drug dens, with up to 90 percent of patients – who were supposed to be getting sober – doing drugs.

Chatman’s ties to prostitution were first exposed by The Palm Beach Post in December, 2015. Nearly a year later, federal authorities arrested him.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

State ethics board clears Palm Beach County Sheriff, two others

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his chief deputy on allegations he misused his position to investigate another candidate for sheriff.

The complaint was filed by former deputy Mark Dougan, a frequent thorn in Bradshaw’s side. He said he filed it about a year ago, before the FBI raided his home, prompting him to flee to Russia.

 

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw speaks during a news conference on Monday, April 14, 2016. During the event, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a ceremonial bill on a piece of victims’ rights legislation at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in West Palm Beach. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

“For them to find no probable cause, when they’re on audio admitting to what they’re doing, the system is broken,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. They won’t hold anyone accountable.”

He said he gave the commission audio recordings of one of PBSO’s investigators, Mark Lewis, talking about going after the sheriff’s enemies.

One of them was Jim Donahue, who was investigated after speaking out about PBSO’s budget.

PBSO records show that in 2010, the department opened an investigation into Donahue, a week after he went before county commissioners with complaints about the department’s budget. He filed to run for office, but never appeared on the ballot. He was charged with four felonies stemming from discrepancies on his 2008 application to work at PBSO. Prosecutors dropped the charges.

Lewis was cleared by the ethics commission. The ethics commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw “disclosed inside information for his personal benefit or for the benefit of another.”

The commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw’s number two, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, “misused his position to direct an investigation of a candidate or expected candidate for Sheriff and to recommend the filing of criminal charges against him.”

The board, which rules on ethics issues involving politicians and state employees, also found no probable cause that Gauger investigated others in Palm Beach County.

Bradshaw told The Palm Beach Post in early February that the ethics commission had already found no probable cause against him.

“I was told through my lawyers no probable cause,” Bradshaw said. He described the investigation of Donahue as legitimate.

“He wrote a 50 page letter about how corrupt we were,” Bradshaw said. “The more we looked at it the more we saw he had put inaccurate information.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

State Attorney’s sober home task force meeting today

In its last session, the Legislature gave funding to State Attorney Dave Aronberg to establish a task force to come up with recommendations on how to clean up the sober home industry.

Today, it’s having its first full meeting, with the goal of driving out bad operators and increasing the quality of care for recovering addicts.

What the group will ultimately recommend to the Legislature is still a mystery, but a smaller meeting of the task force, on Tuesday, laid out what it won’t do. And Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, which is leading the group, gave it some areas to focus on.

First, what it won’t do:

  • Johnson said the task force won’t be looking at zoning requirements for sober homes (federal laws make that illegal).
  • It won’t be going after drug addicts or good operators.
  • It won’t be focusing on prosecuting bad operators, although Johnson said the State Attorney’s Office is convening a grand jury to look at the overall issue.

“We can’t prosecute ourselves out of this,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We’re going to knock some heads, I presume. We’re not sitting on our hands. We have a lot of tips coming in.”

Today’s meeting is open to the public and will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the community room of the West Palm Beach Police Department at 600 Banyan Blvd.

So far, the task force is looking at tackling four key issues:

Who should regulate the recovery industry?

Nearly everyone agrees that Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which currently oversees drug treatment centers, doesn’t have the resources to do it adequately.

Instead, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses health care facilities, is widely considered the more appropriate department for the job, and the task force will look at whether transferring the responsibilities is possible.

Sober homes, however, can’t be regulated because of federal housing and disability laws.

But the idea is to get them voluntarily certified by an accrediting agency — in this case, the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, which has strict guidelines and requirements for its members.

But FARR doesn’t have enough funding to certify the thousands of sober homes in the state. So one of the task force members proposed having the members themselves fund the process. Johnson said that could be a good idea.

“If we left this up to DCF to license and register, we’d be little better off than where we are now,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when an industry regulates its own, it can be as effect or more effective than government.”

Clearing up the laws

Much of the task force’s focus is going to be clearing up the laws to make it clear what’s legal and what’s not.

At Tuesday’s meeting, lawyers for sober homes said their clients spend a lot of money on lawyers simply to figure out how to operate within the law.

That’s because the laws are confusing, said Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

“The providers want clarity. They want to know what’s okay and what’s not okay,” he said.

How should recovering addicts pay for rent at sober homes?

Current patient brokering laws don’t allow medical providers to bribe patients to go to their business or pay for headhunters to lure patients.

That also goes for the drug treatment industry. But patient brokering is considered rampant in the industry, with recovering addicts often enticed to stay at sober homes with offers of free gifts or free rent.

But it’s not really free. In some cases, the addict has to go to a particular outpatient therapy during the day, which charges the person’s insurance. Or the sober home simply wants the addicts in the home so it can make money drug-testing them.

Johnson proposed a radical idea: make it legal for treatment centers to pay for an addicts’ rent at a certified sober home.

That would accomplish two things: good sober homes would automatically have a leg up on the bad actors, because they’d be certified, and bad actors would be encouraged to clean up their act and get certified.

How should sober homes be marketed?

This is another gray area.

Fontaine wanted to know if anything could be done about treatment centers or sober homes that falsely advertise their services or facilities. He said he spoke to one addict’s mother, for example,

And there’s another area of marketing that is a source of concern. Many sober home and treatment center operators will pay people, known as “marketers,” to bring in patients, which is illegal.

But the industry wants that cleared up, too. Attorney Jeffrey Lynne said licensed interventionists are worried about how they can be paid for their work without violating the patient brokering laws.

“That’s what their job is, to do intake and where to place someone,” Lynne said. “Their whole profession has been tainted by this concept of marketing.”

Fired Palm Beach Shores cop accused of rape wanted $575K to settle case

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back in West Palm Beach, FL on May 5, 2016. Palm Beach Shores police chief says FBI is not going to pursue charges against Hoeffer, who is alleged to have committed sexual assault. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The former Palm Beach Shores officer fighting to get his job back after being accused of rape wanted $575,000 to make himself go away.

On the day before his arbitration hearing last week, Charles Hoeffer’s police union lawyer proposed a settlement that would also allow the former officer to retire in good standing.

“We will accept a lump sum of payment of $575,000.00,” Police Benevolent Association lawyer Larry Fagan wrote in an email to the lawyer representing Palm Beach Shores. “We’ll pay the taxes.”

The town rejected the offer.

Hoeffer spent nearly two years on paid leave while the Riviera Beach police, prosecutors and the FBI investigated claims that he twice raped a blind woman while on duty in 2014. Prosecutors and the FBI decided not to charge him with a crime.

Ten other women have accused him of rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence over his 27-year career. One of those women is a former Palm Beach Shores police dispatcher who is now suing the town.

He was fired in January after his police certification expired, an unusual loophole that Hoeffer is fighting. An arbitrator is expected to rule on the case in July.

Fagan calculated the large settlement sum because he said Hoeffer, 54, could work another 8 to 10 years. At the time he was fired, he was being paid $56,622 annually, including supervisor’s pay.

Ten years of pay, with 3 percent increases, would be nearly $650,000, not counting overtime, special details and the supervisor’s pay, which is about $3,000 per year.

That, plus $18,866 in back pay and 750 hours of accrued vacation, holiday and sick leave would total $691,300, Fagan calculated in the proposal.

Despite that amount, Hoeffer was willing to take the $575,000 in a lump sum, Fagan wrote.

Palm Beach Shores chief: FBI won’t charge officer accused of rape

The FBI investigated and decided not to bring charges against a former Palm Beach Shores police officer accused of twice raping a blind woman in her home, the department’s police chief said today.

Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department
Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department

During an arbitration hearing for former officer Charles Hoeffer, Chief Duncan Young said two FBI agents met with him in April, and last week they told him they had found “no evidence of a criminal nature to proceed” with the case.

The State Attorney’s Office also decided not to bring charges in the case, Young said.

Duncan fired Hoeffer in January when his state certification lapsed following nearly two years on paid administrative leave.

The Palm Beach Post reported in February 2015 that 11 different women had made accusations against Hoeffer during his career, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

Hoeffer is fighting the unusual firing, saying he wasn’t notified his four-year mandatory certification was going to expire. He needed retraining to maintain it.

Young said that Hoeffer, an officer with various police departments since 1987, should have known.

Young said he intentionally didn’t tell the officer about the upcoming recertification because be wanted Hoeffer gone.

“I don’t believe Mr. Hoeffer is of good moral character,” he told an arbitrator this morning.

Hoeffer has been dogged by misconduct allegations, including a separate rape allegation in 1996 that prosecutors declined to charge. At least 11 women have made accusations against him, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

He was fired from Delray Beach Police Department for attacking his ex-wife, Riviera Beach police fired him on the 1996 rape allegation, but he won back his job.

He’s been with Palm Beach Shores police for eight years. In 2014, a blind woman told police that he had twice raped her in her home. The department hasn’t yet completed its internal investigation in that case.

A decision by the arbitrator could be months away.

Palm Beach Shores chief: FBI won’t charge officer accused of rape

The FBI investigated and decided not to bring charges against a former Palm Beach Shores officer accused of twice raping a blind woman in her home, the department’s police chief said today.
During an arbitration hearing for former officer Charles Hoeffer, Chief Duncan Young said two FBI agents met with him in April, and last week they told him they had found “no evidence of a criminal nature to proceed” with the case.
The State Attorney’s office also decided not to bring charges in the case, Young said. 
Hoeffer was fired in January, when his state certification lapsed following nearly two years on paid administrative leave. 
Hoeffer is fighting the unusual decision, saying he wasn’t notified his four-year mandatory certification was going to expire. He needed retraining to maintain it.
Young said that Hoeffer, an officer with various police departments since 1987, should have known.
Young said he intentionally didn’t tell the officer about the upcoming recertification because be wanted Hoeffer gone.
“I don’t believe Mr. Hoeffer is of good moral character,” he told an arbitrator this morning.
Hoeffer has been dogged by misconduct allegations, including a separate rape allegation in 1996 that prosecutors declined to charge. The Palm Beach Post found that 11 different women had made accusations against him over his career, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty. He was fired from Delray Beach police police department for attacking his ex-wife, Riviera Beach police fired him on the 1996 rape allegation, but he won back his job. He’s been with Palm Beach Shores police for eight years. In 2014, a blind woman told police that he had twice raped her in her home. The department hasn’t yet completed its internal investigation in that case.
A decision by the arbitrator could be months away.

Feds charge Lake Worth man in overdose death

Federal authorities on Friday charged a Lake Worth man for selling a powerful painkiller that led to another man’s overdose death, the first case of its kind in Palm Beach County despite hundreds of recent overdose deaths.

Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)
Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)

Christopher Sharod Massena, 24, was indicted for distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, a charge that carries a 20-year minimum mandatory prison sentence. He was also charged with multiple counts of distributing heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl.

At roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl, a synthetic drug, can be deadly even in small doses, and it’s become common for drug dealers to combine it with heroin.

The effects have been lethal: roughly 200 people died in opioid-related overdoses in Palm Beach County last year, according to Palm Beach Post data. Many of those also had fentanyl in their system.

But while some local police have made a point of arresting dealers for selling heroin, Massena’s is the first case of a dealer being held responsible for an overdose death.

A Friday Justice Department press release hinted that the charge could be a new strategy to stem the growing number of overdose deaths. The FBI is already close to wrapping up a 2-year investigation of some drug treatment centers.

“The DEA is working very closely with our law enforcement partners in Palm Beach County and the United States Attorney’s Office to fully investigate and prosecute illicit drug trafficking activities to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for the consequences of their actions, especially when the sales result in the tragic death of another individual,” DEA Special Agent in Charge A.D. Wright said in a press release.

The press release said that on Feb. 18, Massena distributed fentanyl to a 23-year-old man who died after taking the drug. The man was not identified.

Afterward, Massena sold heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl to an undercover officer four times, according to the release. On April 21, Massena possessed heroin with the intent to distribute it, the release said. Those charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Local court records show Massena has been arrested several times on violence- and drug-related charges, with stints in Florida prisons from 2011-2012 and 2014-2015.

A message sent to Massena’s lawyer was not returned.

Former Riviera Beach commander announces run for sheriff

 

Rick Sessa
Rick Sessa

A former Riviera Beach police commander and radio host is announcing today that he’s joining the race to become sheriff.

Rick Sessa said he’s filing paperwork on Monday, but said he’s announcing the news on his radio show “The Beat: Real Cop Talk” on 900 AM at 4 p.m. today.

“I feel an obligation to run. I can’t sit back and let this sheriff go unopposed for another four years,” Sessa said. “I grew up here, I policed here, and we need to do something.”

For years, Sessa has been critical of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who is seeking his fourth term. He’s been outspoken about the number of shootings by sheriff’s deputies and blames the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for ending a previous incarnation of his radio program by pressuring the show’s sponsors. His show resumed last year after nearly two years off the air.

If elected, “We’re going to reopen some of these shooting cases, and if we find misconduct or coverup or malicious attempts at prosecution, people will be held accountable,” Sessa said.

Sessa, who was with Riviera Beach police from 1986 to 2006, will join retired Riviera Beach police Maj. Alex Freeman and Samuel L. Thompson in challenging Bradshaw.

But Sessa knows he has his work cut out for him. Bradshaw has raised nearly $300,000. Freeman has raised just $14,000 and Thompson nothing.

“I was told by two political advisers that I’m going to need $300,000 to beat Ric Bradshaw,” he said.

He doesn’t have that kind of money. But, he said, “I have a plan. I have a good team of people laid out.”

 

 

 

 

PBSO investigating release of confidential law enforcement addresses

Former Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy Mark Dougan, second from right, in Russia. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dougan)
Former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Mark Dougan, second from right, in Russia. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dougan)

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is investigating how the home addresses of thousands of officers, prosecutors, judges and others were released online over the weekend.

The addresses are redacted from the county Property Appraiser’s website at the request of police and prosecutors, but friends of a former sheriff’s deputy with a grudge against the agency obtained the information and posted it online.

It includes nearly 3,600 names and addresses of local and federal judges and prosecutors, FBI agents and officers from many local police departments. It also lists addresses of facilities that house victims of domestic violence.

The Palm Beach Post is not naming the site or linking to it because of the sensitive nature of the records.

How the information ended up online is a mystery. Pat Poston, the property appraiser’s director of exemption services, which handles requests by police to redact their home addresses, said county information technology specialists said no one had hacked the property appraiser’s database.

“We’ve been contacted by the sheriff’s office,” Poston said. “They are beginning an investigation.”

A spokeswoman from PBSO hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

The site that posted the information is linked to former deputy Mark Dougan, a longtime thorn in the side of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his second-in-command, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, who has filed a civil suit against Dougan.

Dougan denied responsibility for the release. He said friends in Russia were responsible, but said he knew “a long time ago” that the hackers had the information.

Dougan said the release was retribution against the sheriff’s office, which he claimed had hacked into his personal Facebook and email accounts without a warrant.

“It sucks, but if the government doesn’t want their privacy breached, then they can’t go around breaching the privacy of citizens without a warrant,” he said. “Yes, 4,000 people were not involved in hacking my stuff, but those 4,000 people didn’t do anything to stop it.”

Although state law allows many types of public employees to request their home addresses be redacted from property appraiser websites, many don’t. Those who were not redacted are not exposed on the new posting. The 3,600 all had taken advantage of the state law to keep people from knowing where they live.

 

Seth Adams shooting: Judge allows case to go forward against PBSO

The Seth Adams family lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office will be allowed to go to trial, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley denied Sgt. Michael Custer’s motion to toss the suit, but threw out some of the family’s more minor claims.

Overall, the decision was a victory for Adams’ family, who filed the suit after Adams, 24, was shot and killed by an undercover deputy in 2012. Adams was unarmed and on his own property, a nursery in Loxahatchee Groves.

Custer claimed that Adams fought him and grabbed him around the neck, prompting the deputy to shoot and kill Adams.

The incident is one of the most controversial shootings in the department’s history.

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