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.

Kenny Chatman allies sentenced to prison

newsEngin.17851061_121315-Sober-Chatman-9
Kenny Chatman walks to his Reflections Treatment Center in Margate in December 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

This drug is so deadly, DEA warning cops: Don’t touch it or let K9s sniff

Fentanyl, the powerful painkiller more than 50 times stronger than heroin, has become so prevalent that the Drug Enforcement Administration is warning police and first-responders not to touch or field-test drugs they suspect contain fentanyl.

The agency has released a video to all law enforcement agencies nationwide about the dangers of improperly handling the drug and its deadly consequences – especially to drug-sniffing police dogs.

“Fentanyl is being sold as heroin in virtually every corner of our country,” said Acting Deputy Administrator Jack Riley. “A very small amount ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you.”

Riley urged police to skip testing on the scene.

“Don’t field test it in your car, or on the street, or take it back to the office,” Riley said in the video. “Transport it directly to a laboratory, where it can be safely handled and tested.”

During the last two years, the distribution of clandestinely manufactured fentanyl has been linked to an unprecedented outbreak of thousands of overdoses and deaths. The overdoses are occurring at an alarming rate and are the basis for this officer safety alert.

Photo of Christian "Ty" Hernandez. (Family photo)
Christian “Ty” Hernandez died of a pure dose of fentanyl in February.(Family photo)

Fentanyl is used in surgery as anesthesia and to treat chronic and severe pain. It is available in pills, a film that dissolves in the mouth and a transdermal patch, that delivers the drug directly through the skin. According to the DEA, the fentanyl being sold on the street is produced clandestinely in Mexico, and (also) comes directly from China.

Between 2005 and 2007, over 1,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to fentanyl – many of which occurred in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Last year in Palm Beach County, fentanyl was among the drugs responsible for 95 overdose deaths.

According to DEA’s National Forensic Lab Information System, 13,002 forensic exhibits of fentanyl were tested by labs nationwide in 2015, up 65 percent from the 2014 number of 7,864.

The drug is so potent that doses are measured in a microgram, one millionth of a gram – similar to just a few granules of table salt. The high levels of the drug found in fatal overdoses are especially alarming.

A 25-year-old West Palm Beach man who overdosed in April had a fentanyl level of 18.2 ng/ml. A person wearing a transdermal patch would have a level between 0.8 – 2.6 ng/ml.

Although fentanyl  is often mixed with heroin to increase its potency, dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingest.  Christian Ty Hernandez, a 23-year-old heroin addict who lived in Wellington, overdosed in February on a pure dose of fentanyl. No other drugs were found in his system.

The drug dealer who sold Hernandez the fentanyl, Christopher Massena, faces 100 years in prison for selling the fatal to Massena and four other doses of heroin and fentanyl to undercover officers.

The DEA crackdown on fentanyl includes a major bust in Atlanta, which resulted in the seizure of 40 kilograms of fentanyl – initially believed to be bricks of cocaine – wrapped into blocks hidden in buckets and immersed in a thick fluid. The fentanyl from these seizures originated from Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Fentanyl is also being sold as counterfeit or look-a-like hydrocodone or oxycodone tablets.  These fentanyl tablets are marked to mimic the authentic narcotic prescription medications and have led to multiple overdoses and deaths.

According to a DEA press release: “This is an unprecedented threat.”

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.”

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.

 

 

 

Lease could keep kids’ lockup here, despite criticism of conditions

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility

Severing the Department of Juvenile Justice’s lease for a kid’s lockup here may be easier said than done.

Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana would like nothing better than to see DJJ and the private company it hired to run a juvenile detention center just west of the Fairgrounds close up and go home.

Vana, wetter than a mad hen over conditions at the juvie jail, this week told County Administrator Bob Weisman to look for a way out of its contract with the state agency.

It’s the county’s land that the Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility sits on. DJJ leases it for $1 a year.

Weisman took a first look at the 1990s-era lease and wrote to the legal department that, “It seems to say that we cannot terminate the lease unless the termination is in accordance with law, but yet it doesn’t seem to provide a way that it could be in accordance with law, but then it says that if a court rules the termination was illegal, that we will pay DJJ for the value of the facility.”

“Makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile, DJJ has scrambled to keep up with criticism of the vendor actually running the show: Sarasota-based Youth Services International.

The state agency stepped up monitoring and it appears the teenagers will get milk or juice with a snack, not water. YSI ordered parts for broken plumbing and at least some kids got new shoes and socks.

Then, last month, in an out-of-left-field move, DJJ asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review what was going on at the facility, which holds 118 teenage boys, most of them in pretty serious trouble with the law.

YSI has been dogged by allegations of maltreatment for years. Critics cite a string of scandals linked to the company and its predecessor, including the 1999 collapse of a juvenile jail contract in Pahokee. And for years, company officials have insisted any bad employees have been fired and reforms adopted.

The problems just keep coming, though. Things seemed to come to a head last year, when a Florida Senate subcommittee on criminal justice agreed to hear testimony about a troubled YSI-run Broward center and DJJ canceled a contract with YSI for another center in North Florida.

But even as the troubles mount, so do the deals: According to DJJ records, YSI still holds more than $100 million in contracts to run Florida juvenile facilities.

Kids and crime: Will lawmakers put the brakes on charging kids as adults?

Kenneth Young, at 14 given four life sentences for a string of robberies orchestrated by his mother's drug dealer.
Kenneth Young, at 14 given four life sentences for a string of robberies orchestrated by his mother’s drug dealer. He’s now the subject of a documentary:15tolifethefilm.com

Rambling its way through the Legislature is a bill that could upend Florida’s penchant for trying teenagers as adults- including teenagers as young as 13.
Florida is a national leader in the numbers of minors charged as adults, and Palm Beach County has been among the most aggressive of Florida Counties.
In one case described by Palm Beach Post reporter Jane Musgrave, a 15-year-old set a soap dispenser on fire at Lake Worth High School. He stomped it out, but the $45 of damage prompted the state attorney’s office to charge him as an adult for first degree arson. A conviction would have sent him to prison for 30 years.
Of 135 juveniles charged as adults in Palm Beach County in 2012, Musgrave found, 80 had no prior record. Ten of those first-time offenders were charged as adults for selling $10 bags of pot to undercover agents.
Everyone from the conservative leaning James Madison Institute to the reliably liberal Human Rights Watch have weighed in on the side of changing how Florida sentences kids.
The proposed Florida bill would do just that: curb the ability of states’ attorneys to charge teenagers and give judges more flexibility in sentencing them.
Here’s the Human Rights Watch critique of Florida sentencing kids:http://www.hrw.org/node/124403
For the James Madison Institute’s white paper: http://www.jamesmadison.org/issues/issue-commentary-children-tried-as-adults-in-florida-a-common-sense-approach-to-ensure-fairness-and-accountability
And you can see a state analysis of the bill and judge for yourself here: