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.
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.
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 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.”
A fresh report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that heroin overdose deaths have quickly increased across five age groups between 15 and 64.
Across the nation, heroin deaths have spiked in those age groups since 2010. The hardest-hit group, ages 25 to 34, is also seeing the rate of deaths accelerating. The rate of death rate went from 2.2 for every 100,000 people to 9.7 in that age group, the CDC reported.
That jibes with The Palm Beach Post’s findings in its Heroin: Killer Of A Generation series, which found that most heroin-related overdose deaths in Palm Beach County in 2015 were people under the age of 35.
What does this mean? In 2015, some 12,989 people died of heroin overdoses. That’s about 2,000 people more than were killed in gun homicides a year earlier. Put another way, for every five times someone was shot to death by another person, six people died of heroin overdoses.
Now, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, wants the federal government to see whether the grand jury report should change laws across the country.
Rubio on Thursday asked the comptroller general of the United States to assess whether the Palm Beach County recommendations should have a role in the Government Accountability Office’s review of federal and state oversight of sober homes.
“Abuse and fraud in the addiction treatment industry has exploded in concurrence with the opioid epidemic that has swept our nation. Treatment services are crucial for getting those suffering from substance use disorder on the path to recovery. The Palm Beach Grand Jury report provides valuable insight to one of the states hit hardest by this epidemic, and offers ideas on how states can confront the challenges of fraud and abuse in the addiction treatment industry.”
The grand jury convened at the request of State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a Palm Beach County Democrat preparing to start his second term. The report, released Dec. 12, outlined 15 changes that would:
Crack down on deceptive marketing aimed at vulnerable people
Require effective standards for sober homes
Help state regulators move quickly and effectively
Improve laws against patient brokering and other kickback schemes
Rebalance law enforcement and patient privacy laws to help criminal investigations
Rubio’s Thursday letter is a follow-up to a request he made in June with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to evaluate sober homes and their regulations. They said then that “The ongoing opioid epidemic has fueled a high demand for substance abuse services, and it is critical that individuals receive the care they need, and that facilities purporting to help individuals with substance use disorders are actually doing so.”
The Palm Beach Post found that Palm Beach County’s opioid problem has enormous costs. Last year 216 people died in the county of heroin-related overdoses. In a story on what could be done, The Post noted that Rubio missed a critical vote on the most important addiction bill in decades.
In comments to The Post made Friday, Rubio said that “Heroin and opioid addiction is a disease, and when you hear about some sober living homes and recovery providers mistreating and abusing the people they are supposed to be helping, it’s heartbreaking. I believe more must be done to make sure these facilities are acting in good faith and not defrauding taxpayers by taking advantage of people who are desperately seeking help in their fight against the disease of addiction.”
Rubio said the Government Accounting Office study could suggest ways regulations would protect communities and recovering addicts without overly complicating the government’s role.
The prescription drugs, typically given for pain relief, can lead to dependence. Some people addicted to the pills switch over to other drugs like street heroin, which is becoming increasingly deadly. The problem runs deep: “In 2014, nearly 2 million U.S. residents either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids,” the CDC said.
The CDC report covers data in Massachusetts, where accidental opioid-related overdose deaths increased 45 percent in a year.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts put in restrictions that require doctors and patients both to sign off on a risk assessment; someone must also get pre-approval by the insurance company before getting the drugs. Quantity limits also bar first-time users from getting months-long supplies.
In the end, prescribing rate for all opioids decreased 14.7 percent, which doesn’t sound dramatic. The CDC said the average monthly number of prescriptions dropped by 14,000. What does that actually mean?
“Overall, the estimated quantity of opioids dispensed before and after implementation of the program indicate that approximately 21 million fewer opioid doses were dispensed in the first 3 years after implementation.”
The CDC recommends that opioids should not be the first-line therapy for chronic pain, and initial prescriptions should have limited quantities. The U.S. Surgeon General is also pushing to reduce opioid prescriptions.
Blue Cross also kept tramadol out of the program. Tramadol is thought to have a lower abuse potential than some other opioids. The data doesn’t suggest that tramadol was regularly substituted for the other other opioids, however. And the study doesn’t look at “how patient pain and function were affected by limiting access to opioid prescriptions.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued the emergency rule banning U-47700, a synthetic opioid that has been making its way into street drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is considering emergency action to ban the chemical, which is sometimes mixed with heroin and other opioids.
In a statement, Bondi called it a “new psychoactive substance.” That’s not completely true; the DEA reported seeing it in street use last year, but it was discovered decades ago.
The scientists warned of unusual drugs showing up in victims’ bodies:
” Given the widespread geographical distribution and increase in prevalence in postmortem casework, toxicology testing should be expanded to include testing for “designer opioids” in cases with histories consistent with opioid overdose but with no traditional opioids present or insufficient quantities to account for death.”
Bondi’s statement notes U-47700 has no accepted medical uses.
A number of other states have moved to ban the drug.
Bondi said in the statement that the chemical is usually found in powder or granular form. It can also be pressed into a pill form to look like a prescription drug, or be found in a liquid form or sometimes as a nasal spray.