Possible plea deal in the works for Delray Beach sober home operator Eric Snyder

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.

The court hearing was reschedule to Oct. 16.

Musclebound millionaire: The Palm Beach Post’s story on Eric Snyder

Snyder Snyder is one of the many drug treatment operators exposed in a 2-1/2 year-long Palm Beach Post investigation that revealed the profits to be made from urine-screening in the county’s thriving but corrupt sober home industry.

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.

 

 

Doctor in Kenny Chatman case expected to plead guilty

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.

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

He was the final holdout among eight people arrested in a multi-million-dollar drug treatment operation created by Chatman, who was sentenced to 27 1/2 years in prison in May.

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.

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

Together, the defendants will have to pay back millions to more than a dozen insurance companies that were defrauded.

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.

The amount of evidence in the case was “massive” – more than he’d ever seen in his 42 years in law, Lubin wrote earlier this year. It included:

  • 326 gigabytes of digital records copied onto an encrypted hard drive.
  • 236,245 digital files organized into 8,307 folders
  • 16,064 records in 133 files of patient data
  • 1,719 patient case files with as many as 600 pages in each file
  • 30 FBI taped interviews
  • 225 boxes of paper documents that prosecutors said would take 6-8 weeks to copy

Chatman was first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post story. He was also recently profiled by NBC News.

Drug treatment center doctor who worked for Kenny Chatman will stay out of jail

A doctor who worked for corrupt treatment center operator Kenny Chatman will not be going back to jail – at least for now.

Federal prosecutors wanted Dr. Joaquin Mendez, who is out on $100,000 bond, back behind bars after they argued he violated the terms of his release by treating patients and prescribing opioids.

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

But Mendez’s lawyer, Richard Lubin, argued the terms were vague, and both sides agreed last week simply to amend the terms of his release.

Mendez, a former medical director for Chatman’s corrupt Reflections Treatment Center, is the only one of eight defendants not to have taken a plea deal for their involvement with the facility.

The seven others, including Chatman and his wife, Laura, were sentenced to a combined 58 years in prison.

Mendez has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud for ordering unnecessary urine drug tests for addicts, according to prosecutors.

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.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

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.

Mendez is one of two doctors in charge of overseeing patient care at Chatman’s facilities to be arrested. Last Week, Dr. Donald Willems was sentenced to 10 years in prison – the maximum sentence – after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Chatman was sentenced to 27 years in prison last month after admitting to turning his female patients into prostitutes and pimping them out online.

One of Kenny Chatman’s top doctors gets maximum sentence

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

A doctor who treated patients at Kenny Chatman’s notorious drug treatment center was sentenced to 10 years in prison today.

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.

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

The 10-year sentence was the maximum he could have received after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

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.

>> HEROIN: Killer of a generation

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.

Doctor charged in Kenny Chatman case caught prescribing opioids

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

Federal prosecutors are trying to get a doctor who worked for notorious treatment center operator Kenny Chatman back behind bars after they say he was caught prescribing the opioids Oxycontin and fentanyl to Medicare patients.

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.

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

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.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

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.

Read The Post’s first story on Chatman: Police reports link sober home operator to prostitution

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.

Mendez would be the second doctor in the case to get caught violating the conditions of his release. Dr. Donald Willems went back to jail after police discovered he was working in a drug treatment center and prescribing drugs he was not authorized to prescribe.

Willems, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, will be sentenced today in Miami. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Palm Beach Shores settles case of dispatcher harassed by cop

Palm Beach Shores is paying $150,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former dispatcher who claimed she’d been repeatedly sexually harassed by former town police officer Charles Hoeffer.

For the town, it’s the latest fallout relating to Hoeffer, whom the town paid $135,000 last year to leave after he was accused of raping a blind woman twice. The town is being sued by that woman and another who claims Hoeffer groped and harassed her.

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing on May 5, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The dispatcher, Lori Saridakis, worked under Hoeffer’s supervision while she worked for the town. According to the 2015 lawsuit, he made crude comments to her, including asking her, “When are you gonna let me get some of that?” He would also grope himself in front of her, she said.

Ten months on paid leave: Officer faces assault allegations

11 women accuse cop of assault, rape or harassment

After she went to the town manager with her complaints, she was fired. The town said her position was simply eliminated.

“I’m happy it’s over for her,” Saridakis’ attorney, Arthur Schofield, said Thursday. “It was a long fight, and I’m proud of her for fighting, which other women couldn’t do or didn’t have the courage to do.”

At least one other dispatcher complained that she’d been harassed by Hoeffer. Saridakis could not be reached for comment.

The town’s insurance carrier, which is paying the settlement, agreed to settle just before the case went to trial. The settlement is not an admission of guilt.

The allegations against Hoeffer were first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post article that revealed 11 different women had accused him of assault, rape or harassment over his three decades in policing with three different departments.

Last week, the national news site The Daily Beast profiled Hoeffer and his history in a lengthy exposé.

Schofield said he deposed Hoeffer for the lawsuit. He called it an “eye-opening experience,” although he didn’t uncover any new details about the officer’s history.

 

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.

Heroin Crisis: Chief Judge Colbath latest public official urging governor to help

Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath has joined a growing list of public officials asking Gov. Rick Scott to help local communities deal with the opioid epidemic.

Palm Beach County Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath

“I am writing to you with deep and growing concern over the deadly impact the opioid epidemic is having on our state. As Chief Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, I have witnessed how this escalating problem has particularly impacted Palm Beach County,’’ Colbath said in a letter to Scott on March 17.

“I request that you declare a public health emergency to marshal resources, implement new strategies and raise awareness so we can all more effectively combat this epidemic.”

Colbath’s letter follows similar requests from Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the Wellington Village Council and the Martin County Commission.

“The statistics for 2016 are grim,’’ Colbath wrote, pointing out 551 overdose deaths tallied so far by the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office for the first 11 months of 2016.

“The death toll, once December’s numbers are in, (is) expected to approach or even exceed 600 deaths.’’

Colbath’s letter also pointed out it costs Palm Beach County Fire Rescue at least $1,500 to respond to each overdose call. “The emotional toll to them, furthermore, is incalculable,’’ he said.

“Our county and municipalities are bearing the brunt of these costs. Businesses are being harmed; families are being devastated. .. We are doing what we can at the local level, but our resources are limited.’’

Although Colbath’s letter cited local statistics, he said the epidemic has spread beyond Palm Beach County:

“This is a statewide problem that requires a statewide response,’’ he wrote.

“With increased state help, and through your leadership as Governor, we can together stem this tide of tragedies.’’

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus have also sent letters urging Scott to declare the heroin crisis a public health emergency.

McKinlay was the first local public official to ask Scott for a declaration, which Scott has refused to do.

McKinlay is helping lead the local fight after her then-chief aide’s daughter died in November of an overdose.

 

 

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.