A preliminary hearing in federal court for Eric Snyder, owner and operator of a Delray Beach drug treatment center and sober home raided by the FBI in December 2014, has been delayed for 30 days to give attorneys time to “consider whether or not a pre-indictment resolution” can be worked out.
Snyder was arrested on July 11 and charged with fraudulently billing insurance companies for $58.2 million over nearly five years, according to court records.
Snyder, 30, and Christopher Fuller, 32, described in a 26-page federal complaint as a “junkie hunter” hired by Snyder, were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The document described how Snyder bribed patients with airline tickets, cash, rent and visits to strip clubs. Fuller trolled AA meetings and “crack” motels to find patients, the complaint said.
Snyder’s treatment center, Real Life Recovery, and sober home, Halfway There, raked in more than $18 million from the $58.2 million in fraudulent claims to insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna and Humana for urine drug tests and “bogus” treatment, according to court documents.
The profits have attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. In March, the IRS filed a lien, saying Snyder owed $2 million in back income taxes.
Shortly after his arrest, Snyder’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, said Snyder did not “intentionally” participate in fraud.
“Eric has personally been involved in saving many, many lives and making a difference in many other lives of those suffering from addiction,” Zimet said.
At a public forum, Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet took aim at The Post and State Attorney’s Office investigators looking into absentee ballot fraud in the primary election. Detectives found nearly two dozen fraudulent signatures on absentee ballot request forms but couldn’t identify a suspect, The Post reported.
“It’s distasteful,” Powell told the audience of roughly 80 people. “It should be criminal that newspapers can print something like that and implicate.”
Jacquet took aim at the detectives who questioned voters, calling their behavior “criminal” and “unconstitutional.” Fourteen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives were assigned to interview voters.
“Someone comes to your door in uniform, bangs on your door and says, ‘Who did you vote for? How did you vote for them? Why did you vote for them? Did they give you anything to vote for them?'” Jacquet said. “This is not only criminal, this is unconstitutional civil rights violations. This is singling out one group of folks and literally intimidating them, suppressing their right to vote.”
Powell said the story was “flawed.”
“The story was not truthful, and it was done in order to damage the credibility of myself, (County Commissioner) Mack Bernard and Al Jacquet,” he said.
The reason the case was dropped is because the lead detectives on the case, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant and West Palm Beach detective assigned to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, couldn’t find a suspect.
Detectives didn’t follow up on basic leads, didn’t interview people who might have known about the fraud and waited eight months before following up with voters who made complaints.
Detectives also never followed up on The Post’s March story, in which voters said Jacquet and Bernard went into their homes, helped them fill out their ballots and collected them. Collecting other people’s ballots is a felony, the report states.
Powell, who said he brought copies of the report to Tuesday’s forum, said that the state attorney’s report does not “in any point indicate that our campaigns were under investigation.”
The report does not mention Powell, and only mentions Bernard and Jacquet briefly.
But 17 of the 22 victims, which included a state attorney’s employee and her three family members, were in a narrow area where Jacquet’s, Powell’s and Bernard’s districts intersect.
And the only “person of interest” in the case was Delano Allen, whom detectives never interviewed. He was seen on video dropping off bundles of absentee ballot request forms.
Detectives never mentioned in their report that Allen is Powell’s longtime legislative aide.
Powell on Tuesday came to Allen’s defense, saying that other people must have been dropping off ballot request forms for other campaigns, too.
“Delano Allen is my legislative aide,” he said, gesturing toward Allen. “In the paper they indicated that he dropped off ballot requests, almost saying that’s illegal. I’m sure that during the election season, that many Democratic clubs, Republican clubs, many other people dropped off absentee ballot requests. But when it came down to implicating him as to turning in one ballot, he turned in none. That was not reported. Unacceptable.”
It’s not illegal to drop off ballot request forms. The report does not mention Allen turning in absentee ballots. That would be illegal.
After he made his remarks, Powell criticized a Post reporter, telling the reporter that the newspaper didn’t mention that detectives found six fraudulent absentee ballots, which were from outside his district.
“It was determined that 6 absentee ballots were possibly altered, forged, or obtained in a fraudulent way,” the report states. “It was determined through the course of the investigation that there was no criminal activity associated with these absentee ballots.”
After Powell spoke, Jacquet questioned why the three Democrats were even singled out for absentee ballots.
“When you go to the division of elections and see the number of absentee ballots that counted in the recent election, the number has continued to skyrocket, because voters are now realizing that they don’t have to stand in line for two, three hours,” he said. “Why single out one group?”
But the candidates’ performance in absentee ballots was well above normal. Their opponents cried foul, and elections experts considered the results suspicious.
In some precincts, Bernard and Jacquet won nine of every 10 absentee ballots cast. They also drastically outperformed the top-ticket U.S. Senate candidates. In one Boynton Beach precinct, for example, 135 more people voted for Jacquet than for all the U.S. Senate candidates combined.
“When you have that type of down-ballot voting that exceeds the top of the ticket, it raises some suspicions,” University of Florida professor Daniel Smith told The Post in March.
Tuesday’s event was intended to give constituents a wrap-up of the Legislative session. But Powell said they first had to address the “elephant in the room.”
Mendez was the last holdout among eight people arrested in a fraudulent multi-million dollar drug treatment operation run by Chatman.
He admitted today to being essentially a doctor in name only for Reflections between September 2014 and September 2015. Although Mendez was supposed to be seeing patients and dictating their medical care, Chatman was the one deciding when people would get tested.
Mendez would sign doctor’s orders without ever seeing the patients. He also signed off on hundreds of “certificates of medical necessity” for urine and saliva tests after the testing had already been done – and in some cases, the patients had already been discharged from Reflections.
His actions helped turn Reflections, in Margate, and Chatman’s chain of sober homes into a multi-million dollar operation, despite Chatman having no experience in health care when he founded the facility in 2013.
Chatman’s crimes went far beyond health care fraud, however. His sober homes throughout Palm Beach County were houses of horror, where drug use was rampant and where some female patients were kept chained up so he could prostitute them. At least four people died of overdoses while in his care.
Chatman was sentenced to 27 1/2 years in prison in May. All of the other defendants also took plea deals, including another doctor and Chatman’s wife.
The last defendant in Kenny Chatman’s drug treatment fraud scheme is expected to plead guilty, according to a Thursday court filing.
Dr. Joaquin Mendez had pleaded not guilty to federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. What he will plead guilty to is unknown; a change of plea hearing is scheduled for July 14.
Chatman, a felon who had no experience in health care before he created Reflections Treatment Center in Broward County in 2013, also trafficked his female patients. In his sober homes scattered throughout Palm Beach County, he held women captive and prostituted them.
Mendez was a former medical director for the Reflections. One of the reasons he declined to take a plea deal is because his veteran defense attorney, Richard Lubin, wanted more time to evaluate the evidence.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay has been honored by the Florida Association of Counties for her efforts to help communities across the state deal with the opioid epidemic.
At a ceremony Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, McKinlay received the Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award, which is presented to a county elected official who has shown extraordinary leadership.
“Her commitment to opioid abuse saw success with additional federal and state funding as well as tougher penalties,’’ FAC President Kathy Bryant said as she presented the award to McKinlay.
On Thursday, Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order extending his public health emergency declaration on the opioid crisis for another 60 days. McKinlay had sent him a letter earlier this month requesting the extension.
McKinlay will be the keynote speaker Aug. 31 in Boca Raton at a rally to observe International Overdose Awareness Day. She will speak as a guest of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. The rally will be held at Florida Atlantic University from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
The Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award is named after the late Marlene Young, who served as a County Commissioner in Polk County from 1988-2000. She was a founding member of the Florida Counties Foundation, and in 1993 she became President of FAC.
One of the terms of his release, added in handwriting to the paperwork, was that he “not use his Medicare number to provide any services.”
Prosecutors said he violated those terms after he treated at least 188 Medicare patients wrote more than 100 prescriptions for controlled substances that included oxycodone, Oxycontin, clonazepam and fentanyl.
Lubin, his lawyer, argued the terms were weirdly vague.
“Not only is this Court and Dr. Mendez left guessing at what it means to ‘treat patients using his Medicare number,’ it is entirely unclear what the Government means by ‘Medicare number,'” Lubin wrote.
Apparently the ‘Medicare number’ prosecutors referenced was Mendez’s Provider Transaction Access Number, which Lubin said had “absolutely nothing to do with” Medicare claims.
On Thursday, both sides agreed to changing the terms of release.
Dr. Donald Willems, an osteopath, was the medical director for Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center, in Broward County, from October 2015 to May 2016.
He admitted in his plea deal to signing off on drug tests and unnecessary allergy and DNA tests, which helped Chatman turn his drug treatment center into a multi-million dollar business.
Although Willems was supposed to be treating the patients at Reflections, he wasn’t monitoring the results of their drug tests, he admitted. If he was, he would have noticed that most of the patients were not sober and their drug tests were actually being submitted by other people, including Reflections workers.
The 10-year sentence was the maximum he could have received after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
Willems was one of two doctors arrested for working with Chatman, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison last month. Chatman admitted to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes at his sober homes in Palm Beach County. Even in South Florida’s widely corrupt drug treatment industry, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafaña called Chatman “the most dangerous” player in it.
Federal prosecutors say the other doctor, Dr. Joaquin Mendez, has violated the conditions of his release on bond, and they asked last week to arrest him again. Mendez is the only one of the eight defendants – which includes Chatman’s wife, Laura – to not take a plea deal.
Willems is also facing four-year-old state charges of racketeering and illegally providing oxycodone for his work at a pill mill in Broward County.
Dr. Joaquin Mendez, facing charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and health care fraud in January, was out on $100,000 bond. As part of the conditions of his release, he was not allowed use his Medicare number to “provide any services,” according to a court filing on Friday. His Medicare number was also revoked after he was released.
But federal prosecutors say that between February and May, Mendez treated at least 188 Medicare patients, and he wrote more than 100 prescriptions for controlled substances that included oxycodone, Oxycontin, clonazepam and fentanyl.
Prosecutors wrote that agents learned Mendez was dropping in on assisted living facilities and asking if anybody wanted to see a doctor. He would then either write the patient a prescription or refer them to a home health agency.
A judge will decide whether he will be arrested again.
Mendez is the only co-defendant who has not taken a plea deal in the massive fraud case against Kenny Chatman and his treatment centers, Reflections, in Broward County, and Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.
In addition to fraud charges, Chatman admitted to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes at his Palm Beach County sober homes. Last month, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and forced to register as a sex offender. His lawyers said he will appeal the sentence.
Prosecutors say Mendez ordered unnecessary urine drug tests for patients at Reflections and Chatman’s other treatment center, Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.
Palm Beach County commissioners could be asked again this year to add more positions to help the Medical Examiner’s Office keep pace with a rising caseload driven by the opioid epidemic.
A new associate medical examiner and a new technician will start July 3, roughly three months after county commissioners approved the addition of those two positions.
But the office recently lost a key position when one of its doctors left to take a job with the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. That means the new doctor that starts on July 3 will essentially replace the doctor who left, keeping the Palm Beach County’s Medical Examiner’s Office at five doctors instead of six.
“It will be some time before the newly added position will help reduce the examiner workload,’’ deputy county administrator Jon Van Arnam said Thursday in an email to commissioners.
“The number of new cases continues to increase at an unprecedented rate, stressing staff and the system. If this trend continues, it could necessitate us returning to the (County Commission) for additional positions later this year or early next year.’’
To help reduce the possibility of losing more doctors, Van Arnam has suggested the county’s Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Bell, conduct a salary and benefits survey.
“Pay and benefits are key factors in our ability to attract and retain qualified medical staff and investigators,’’ Van Arnam said in the email.
At the meeting in April about the opioid epidemic, county commissioners also approved a third position – an executive level drug czar – to oversee the county’s response to the drug crisis. That position could be filled later this year.
“This position is still being developed,’’ Van Arnam said.
“We are determining how to best (use) this position in coordination with key partners including the Health Care District, Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and PBSO. We understand the urgency of this situation and will keep you informed of our progress.’’