Heroin crisis: Martin County asks governor to declare health emergency

The Martin County Commission is the latest Florida government to ask Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency to help communities deal with the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid epidemic we are experiencing across our state does not discriminate,’’ Commission Chairman Doug Smith said Friday in a letter to Scott.

“Recognizing and elevating this issue could provide additional resources and support we need to combat this deadly crisis and save the lives of hundreds of Floridians.’’

Smith’s letter arrived on Scott’s desk about a month after a similar letter by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.

Scott has not responded to McKinlay’s letter or to requests made state senate Democrats last month.

According to Smith’s letter, 341 people died of drug-related overdoses in the Treasure Coast region, just north of Palm Beach County, made up of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

“Those numbers increased 10 percent last year,’’ Smith said, adding that 88 people died in Martin County of overdoses in 2016.

“Since 2011, the Treasure Coast has lost 2,037 lives, with a loss to Martin County of 500 of our citizens due to drug overdoses.’’

Martin County Fire Rescue spent $8,160 on 272 doses of Naloxone in 2015, compared to $2,200 for 76 does in 2013, Smith said.

Sober home cases in court: More charges, another plea

kigar-mugshot
James Kigar

James Kigar, accused to paying kickbacks for patients at his treatment center Whole Life Recovery, has been arrested again on charges of failing to carry workers compensation insurance.

Kigar’s latest arrest on Jan. 15 was a byproduct of raid by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force on Oct. 25, 2016. Documents seized during a search of Whole Life Recovery in Boynton Beach provided evidence used to charge Kigar with more than 90 counts of patient brokering.

Also during the raid, investigators with the Florida Bureau of Insurance Fraud interviewed two employees who complained that taxes and workers-compensation were not being deducted from their paychecks. Records seized confirmed that Kigar did not have workers’ compensation insurance for his employees.

The arrest is the third for Kigar since Oct. 25, which he was arrested on 5 counts of patient brokering. On Dec. 20, Kigar was arrested again when bryannorquistmugprosecutors filed dozens more patient brokering charges against him.

Of nine other sober home owners and operators accused of brokering their tenants to Whole Life Recovery, one has accepted a plea deal in exchange for probation.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx has scheduled a plea conference in the case of Bryan Norquist, 26, owner of The Halfway House, on March 7. Norquist’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, said there is not plea agreement and Norquist intends to go to trial.

Norquist’s older brother Patrick has also been charged with patient brokering.

 

UPDATE: Green Terrace unsafe without water, residents to be evicted

UPDATE: Less than a day after the city turned off the water at Green Terrace condominiums on for failing to pay a $30,000 water bill, the city declared the condos unsafe and ordered residents in the 84-unit complex – to move by Aug. 22.

File Aug 10, 12 04 46 PMThe notice – taped onto residents’ doors Wednesday morning – also orders them to board up their units by Aug 29.

The condo board held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to vote on whether the board should use some of the $291,000 in its reserve account to pay the water bill. However, the vote was cancelled because there were not enough unit owners present to make the vote valid.

Ken Bailynson, a CPA who owns 44 units and serves as the association’s treasurer, did not a show up for the meeting or vote by proxy. It was the second emergency meeting in a month that was cancelled for a lack of a quorum.


West Palm Beach utilities shut off water at Green Terrace condominiums today after the condo board did not pay the $30,000 overdue water bill.

The shutoff is the second this summer at the 84-unit complex on Georgia Avenue, just south of Belvedere Road. Board members say there is not enough money to pay the bill.

Ken Bailynson sits in court during a hearing (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Ken Bailynson sits in court during a hearing (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

»» Who is Ken Bailynson and why did the FBI raided Green Terrace? »»

The water woes at Green Terrace are the latest salvo in a bitter lawsuit between the condo board, including one-time sober home owner Ken Bailynson, and residents who fear Bailynson, a CPA,  is trying to take over the complex. 

In September 2014, the FBI raided the complex on Georgia Avenue off Belvedere Road, then the location of Good Decisions Sober Living facility, owned by Bailynson. No charges have been filed. Bailynson shut down the business but continued to buy apartments.

Although the association has $291,601 in reserves, board president Sandra Matus said that money can’t be used to pay the water bill without a vote by unit owners. Matus – whose condo was a gift from Bailynson – said the board called an emergency meeting for July 13 so that unit owners could vote on whether to dip into its reserves to pay the water bill.

However, there were not enough owners present to take the vote, Matus said in court papers. Bailynson, who owns 44 of the 84 units at the complex, did not attend the meeting. Instead he sat in his car in the parking lot and did not vote, said Denise Medina, a resident who said she parked next to Bailynson.

 

POLL: Who is to blame in an overdose death? Drug dealer or addict?

heroin artMonday a jury will begin deliberations in the trial of Christopher Massena, a 24-year-old drug dealer facing life in prison if the jury decides he sold the drugs that killed Christian Ty Hernandez, a 22-year-old heroin addict.

Massena’s attorney will not be allowed to argue that Hernandez was to blame for his own death because he is a drug addict. Also prohibited: arguing that Massena is not guilty because he did not intend to kill Hernandez with the drugs he sold him. An autopsy found that Hernandez, 22, of Wellington, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.

The case is the first of its kind in Palm Beach County. Besides the legal precedent, the case raises ethical questions about whether drug addicts should be held solely responsible for their overdose deaths.

Research has shown that addiction is a disease and as the disease progresses, many addicts will not be able to quit. That leaves them vulnerable to drug dealers, who prey upon their disease to make money.

In addition, many drug dealers do not even know what drugs they are selling. Although Hernandez was addicted to heroin, there was no heroin in his body when he died. The only drug found in his system was fentanyl, a drug roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine.

 

 

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.

As Youth Services International exits Florida, critics ask: Why are for-profit businesses in charge of youthful offenders?

It’s almost impossible to talk about Youth Services International exiting the Florida juvenile system without also talking about privatization.

“We should recognize as a community that we cannot derive profit off the punishment and rehabilitation of kids,” said Gordon Weekes, the Broward County chief assistant public defender who for years has locked horns with YSI over the treatment of kids in its care.

“This should never have been a profit center.”

Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice long ago began putting the care and treatment

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.

of juveniles bound for residential, treatment or detention facilities into the hands of private companies.

YSI was among the first to ink contracts and among the first to start chalking up troubling reports dating to its mid-1990s management of a Pahokee lockup: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence.

Last week, DJJ announced it was severing the company’s seven contracts as part of a whistleblower suit settlement. The whistleblowers, all former YSI employees, had reported, among other things: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence. (YSI said that, even though the suit was without merit,  it settled because it wanted to put the long-running litigation behind it. )

Caroline Isaacs
Caroline Isaacs

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona director for the American Friends Service Committee, “This is not about a single bad actor or a few bad apples. It is inherent in the effort to make money and is driven by the concerns and needs of shareholders.”

“Oh, I never fault the companies on this stuff,” said Paul Wright. That’s a bit out of left field coming from Wright, a former prison inmate, the founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of the award-winning Prison Legal News, which has for years has taken on prison privatization in all its manifestations.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright

But, said Wright, nobody should be surprised when a for-profit company finds ways to make profits.

“Let’s take them at their word they are in the business of making money,” he said. Cutting costs is part of the deal, he pointed out.

“It’s not their fault that government continues to shovel money at them.”

 

Weekes said YSI’s exit give DJJ an opportunity: a small, state-run facility that incorporates the best practices of juvenile detention. “Take the the profits we are paying to companies and get down to core  element of what a child needs to get back on the right track,” he said. “Once we have best practices, we can replicate that.

“We can’t just keep throwing good money after bad at the YSIs of the world.”

After years of criticism, YSI is out of Florida’s juvvie justice system

For years, Youth Services International has fended off allegations of substandard care of the juvenile offenders it houses for Florida, and for years, Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has continued to award the Sarasota company lucrative contracts and defend its practices.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, a fierce critic of YSI
Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, a fierce critic of YSI.

Until now.

YSI is out as of August 31.

DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said in a written statement issued late Wednesday afternoon that the decision was set in motion by a former YSI employee who sued the company, alleging it faked documents key to its lucrative state contracts and failed to provide services to juveniles in its care.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office became involved, said Daly, and the resulting mediated settlement requires YSI to relinquish its contracts to run seven DJJ facilities — and reimburse the state for unspecified financial losses.

“While YSI believes there is no merit to this lawsuit, it made the decision to settle the case in an effort to put the four year litigation in the past and avoid the future cost and distraction of a continued legal defense,” said a company spokesman in a statement.

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.

“To know that they are not going to be in the state anymore is absolutely marvelous,” said Palm Beach County commissioner Shelley Vana. Vana’s high-profile criticism of how YSI ran the troubled Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility focused Tallahassee’s attention on the firm.

And this from Broward County public defender Gordon Weekes, who represents youthful offenders and has a laundry list of issues with the firm: “It’s about time.”

Last August, YSI opted out of its multimillion-dollar state contract to

run the Palm Beach center for teenage boys after a surprise inspection by Vana found several teenagers with shoes that were falling apart. Some toilets weren’t working. Teens said they were hungry.

Further, in the previous eight months before her visit, two staffers were charged with child neglect after arranging a brutal fight between teenagers. One of the teens sustained a “possible fractured eye socket and a fractured nose,” according to investigators.

DJJ requested an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Even so, the agency largely defended its long-time contractor.

Yet the company has found itself under fire since 1997, when DJJ awarded Correctional Services Corp. — which later became YSI — its very first contract, to run the 350-bed Pahokee Youth Development Center in rural Palm Beach County.

Just months later, Dade County Circuit Judge Thomas Petersen reported “physical and psychological conditions (that) bordered upon child abuse” at the facility.

The company flatly denied Petersen’s findings. Months before the $30 million contract was set to expire, however, and one week before a slated Palm Beach County court hearing on conditions at the center, the company dropped the Pahokee contract.

It was, said state officials, a mutual decision. But not long after that, YSI picked up more state contracts to house and treat juveniles for the state, including the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility deal, and has been racking up contracts ever since.

In June 2013, just as the Dept. of Justice published its findings that the rate of youth-reported sex abuse at the Palm Beach facility was triple 2012’s statewide average, Florida signed off on contracts with YSI valued at $17.7 million. In October of that year, when Pembroke Pines police were investigating two YSI staff members accused of assaulting teens in their care, Florida and YSI inked an $11.7 million contract. And the company got a $29 million contract even as it was fending off a suit alleging civil rights violations at Thompson Academy in Broward County.

YSI will be out of the business of caring for Florida juvenile offenders as of August 31, said Daly, when new operators are expected to be phased in. Just who that will be isn’t yet known.

Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Familiar names, familiar problems.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.
As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care.

Correct Care is running three of Florida’s troubled state mental hospitals, part of the state system blasted in a recent Tampa Bay Times/ Sarasota Herald Tribune investigation. It also runs Florida’s civil commitment center housing sex offenders.

That’s of particular concern, given GEO’s track record of treating inmates, exposed in a Palm Beach Post series.

On the other hand, not everyone is worried about Correct Care. Late last year, the company announced its work at the state’s South Florida State Hospital and South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center was recognized for meeting key quality benchmarks by The Joint Commission, the top accreditation group for U.S. health care organizations.

The same month, it announced it had snared a Department of Justice deal valued at up to $65 million to run the federal prison in Coleman.

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona program director for the American Friends Service Committee, when it comes to privatizing prisons and criminal justice, “There is a clear disconnect between performance and contract acquisition.”

AFSC is working with Grassroots to research privatization issues, and, said Isaacs, “We see consistent patterns of abuse, neglect, lawsuits, escapes, riots and somehow  these corporations are still getting contracts.”

That was the case with Corizon, which snared a $1 billion-plus contract with Florida to provide medical care to prison inmates despite a trail of horrific inmate care both in Florida and other states.

 

 

 

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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