Opioid crisis: Lake Worth art and film festival in July aims to raise awareness

A film and art festival aimed at raising awareness to the opioid epidemic will be held next month in downtown Lake Worth.

Set for July 7-9, the Art of Recovery Film Festival and Art Exhibit will feature paintings, photographs and films created by people in recovery.

Manny Mendez, Vic James and Mark Sanchez, co-organizers of the festival, stand by an illustration made by Mendez about people lost to addiction. (Photo by Joe Capozzi)

“It is our mission to restore hope and bring awareness through artistic expressions,” said Manny Mendez, co-organizer of the festival with Vic Guy and Mark Sanchez.

Paintings and photographs will be displayed at the Armory Art Center Annex, 1121 Lucerne Ave. Films will be shown at the Stonzek Theater next to the Lake Worth Playhouse.

Admission is free. Proceeds from the sale of artwork will benefit Restoration Bridge and The Fellowship Foundation Recovery Community Organization.

Local artists are welcome to create and showcase during the festival. For more information, go to the festival’s webpage or call Mendez at 561 889 7230.

“The entire concept and each artistic medium is recovery-focused,’’ said Mendez, who wants the festival to “inspire hope in the lives of many struggling with addiction issues.

He hopes to festival educates people “who are not familiar with the addiction and recovery process” and helps “lift the stigma around addiction

Opioids crisis: Medical Examiner loses key doctor as caseload keeps rising

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.

>> HEROIN: Killer of a generation

>> Palm Beach County takes steps to attack heroin epidemic

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.’’

Dr. Michael Bell, Palm Beach County medical examiner.

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.’’

Last year, the caseload for the Medical Examiner’s Office topped 2,000 for the first time.

“That’s a 60 percent increase in the last two years, which is almost exclusively due to these opioid overdoses,’’ Bell told county commissioners in April.

“It’s not like we’re getting more homicides. We’re not getting more heart attacks, more elder falls and head trauma. This is all due to opioid fatalities.”

MORE: Opioid overdose deaths double to nearly 600: ‘I don’t see any stop’

Sober Home Task Force raids West Palm Beach treatment center

Wellness Center of Palm Beach is the latest drug treatment center to be raided by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force. 

Delray Beach Police Det. Nicole Lucas, a member of the task force, reported the May 30 raid on her Facebook page and asked patients who want to give a statement to send her a private message on Facebook.  No arrests have been made as a result of the raid.

READ MORE OF THE POST’S INVESTIGATION: Inside the Gold Rush

The center is located at 2724 Australian Ave. in West Palm Beach.  According to Florida corporate records, the center was founded in 2014 by Jayeshkumar Dave of Parkland. Dave could not be reached for comment.  A voice message left on an answering machine at the center was not returned.

The Florida legislature tasked Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg with investigating corruption in South Florida’s drug treatment industry after numerous news reports about insurance fraud, patient brokering and kickbacks.

Since October, the task force has made 24 arrests and raided treatment centers and sober homes throughout the county.

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 kidnapped me’: Read one woman’s human trafficking story

Corrupt drug treatment operator Kenny Chatman will be sentenced Wednesday, and for the past few weeks, parents and victims have been writing letters to U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks, telling him that they believe Chatman killed their children or furthered their addictions.

But perhaps none of the letters is as chilling as one filed with the court Monday, from a woman who says Chatman kidnapped her and forced her into prostitution. Then, after she escaped and told police, she says Chatman confronted her again and forced her to sign a sworn statement recanting.

Chatman has admitted to many of the details mentioned in the letter, and he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, along with conspiracies to commit money laundering and health care fraud. He faces up to life in prison.

The woman’s letter is so chilling that The Palm Beach Post is choosing to publish it in its entirety:

My name is (redacted)

I’m 22 years old. I came down to Florida in 2013 for substance abuse treatment. I’ve been struggling with addiction since I was 11 years old.

I first met Kenny Chatman in 2015 at age 19. Kenny Chatman kidnapped me. I was brought to the house by some of the men that worked for him, as well as himself. Upon entering the house I was punched in the face and lost consciousness.

When I woke up at the house, there were restraints on my wrists and ankles attached to a bed post. There were other girls present at the house, severely under the influence, almost to the point of unconsciousness. They took all my belongings, including my clothes. They IV drugged me with an unknown sedative. And from that point on, men came in and paid him money to rape me.

He had me extremely intoxicated on unknown sedatives and substances that I was going in and out of consciousness but was completely aware of myself being raped, molested, emotionally, mentally physically, sexually abused, and verbally demeaned.

I recall close to 150 in total different faces of rapists abusing me daily over a period of 3-4 weeks. I was unrestrained for brief periods, only to be cleaned up of bodily fluids. I thought I was going to die there, in fact, I was convinced after several days.

After roughly 4 weeks of enduring countless abusive and sexual acts being performed against my will, I managed to jump out of a window while unrestrained and escape in solely a tshirt. I flagged down a car, and went home.

I later contacted local authorities and made a full police report naming Kenny Chatman as the perpetrator and captor. I was contacted by the FBI and detectives of the local police force to question me and get information from me about what happened.

This event has completely changed my life in every way. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and even in relationships with others. I’m terrified of men. I can’t have a normal intimate relationship yet. I have constant night terrors and flashbacks to this day of the events that have happened to me because of this man.

I have struggled to stay sober since these events took place in 2015, which is extremely upsetting since I had close to 2 years sober prior to it. After these events I was placed back in treatment and am still to this day receiving countless hours of trauma therapy, as well as addiction counseling. I’ve done over a year of EMDR therapy.

Long after I came forward with these events, I was confronted by Kenny Chatman again and forced into a vehicle and threatened and taken to a notary and forced to sign a document recanting my previous statements against him.

Once again, I was paralyzed with fear. In a place where you are supposed to feel the safest, TREATMENT, I experienced some of the most gruesome acts that I can think of.

Today, my hope is that justice will be served and Kenny Chatman is permanently removed from the streets so not only can he not get me again, but so he can’t do this to other human beings.

Opioid epidemic: Rick Scott declares public health emergency

Gov. Rick Scott has issued a statewide public health emergency over the opioid epidemic, in response to multiple requests for help from local leaders.

Scott’s decision came after the last of four state workshops on the opioid crisis this morning in Duval County. State officials held their first workshop Monday in West Palm Beach followed by two on Tuesday in Manatee and Orange counties.

Many people who attended the workshops called for him to declare a public health emergency.

“Finally,” said Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who made the first request for a public health emergency back in February.

“Today I feel relief. relief that the voices of so many were finally heard. For the pain of loss so many families have faced, to those struggling to overcome addition,” she said.

“I am hopeful that the governor’s direction to declare a public health crisis in response to the opioid epidemic will open the door to a truly meaningful plan to fight this disease.”

McKinlay’s request, which triggered other leaders to send similar requests, came after The Palm Beach Post published a special section examining the crisis. That section, Heroin: Killer of a generation, was published days after the daughter of McKinlay’s chief aide died of a drug overdose.

“This emergency declaration is important to combat the epidemic in our communities,” said Jupiter Vice Mayor Ilan Kaufer, who helped spearhead a declaration request by the Palm Beach County League of Cities in March.

“I am thankful to all the local leaders and community members who supported efforts to let the Governor know how important this step was in saving lives.”

Check back later for updates on this developing story.

Here is a press release issued minutes ago by Scott’s office:

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring a national opioid epidemic, Governor Rick Scott signed Executive Order 17-146 directing a Public Health Emergency across the state. By signing the Emergency Order, it will allow the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Opioid State Targeted Response Grant which was awarded to Florida on April 21 to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Without the order, it would have taken months for the state to distribute these funds to local communities. In addition to declaring a Public Health Emergency, Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip will issue a standing order for Naloxen, an emergency treatment for opioid overdose. This will ensure first responders have immediate access to this lifesaving drug to respond to opioid overdoses.

 

Governor Scott said, “Today, I issued an executive order which allows the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding which will immediately be distributed to communities across the state to deal with the opioid epidemic. HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price awarded the Opioid State Targeted Response Grant to Florida and I want to thank the Trump Administration for their focus on this national epidemic. I have also directed State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to declare a Public Health Emergency and issue a standing order for Naloxone in response to the opioid epidemic in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott

“Last month, I directed the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange Counties to identify additional strategies to fight the rising opioid usage cases in Florida. They have gotten a lot of feedback this week and we will continue to look at additional ways we can fight this national epidemic which has taken the lives of many Floridians.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up. The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help. Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “This declaration will help strengthen our continued efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic claiming lives in Florida by providing additional funding to secure prevention, treatment and recovery support services. I want to thank Governor Rick Scott for his continued partnership in combating drug abuse in our state; from shutting down pill mills to outlawing deadly synthetic drugs, Governor Scott has long supported efforts by my office and law enforcement to raise awareness, stop drug abuse and save lives.”

 

Adviser for notorious treatment center sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison

A former clinical director at the notorious drug rehab center run by Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison today.

Barry Gregory was responsible for overseeing patients’ treatment plans at Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center. But he largely turned a blind eye to problems there; he admitted in February to signing orders for patients to take urine and saliva tests that weren’t necessary, and he ordered DNA and allergy tests regardless of whether patients complained of allergies.

Dr. Barry Gregory, former clinical director for Reflections Treatment Center

He also said that as many as 90 percent of Reflections’ patients were actively using drugs.

Gregory pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and knowingly falsifying a matter involving health care programs.

He joins six other people, including Chatman’s wife, who have pleaded guilty to various federal crimes related to Chatman’s drug treatment centers.

Chatman, first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post story, created Reflections in a central Broward County strip mall in 2013. In Palm Beach County, he ran a series of sober homes that were notorious drug dens. He admitted last month to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes, pimping them out on websites like Craigslist and Backpage.

Chatman built Reflections into a multi-million dollar treatment center, and Gregory, a licensed mental health counselor, was instrumental in making that happen.

Chatman hired him in July 2015 to a position where Gregory would oversee addicts’ treatment and counseling. But Chatman was the one who dictated which patients were admitted and how they were treated, Gregory admitted.

When he was hired, Reflections was still on probation with the Department of Children and Family Services. Gregory was the one who filled out the forms to get Reflections fully licensed. To do so, he helped hide the business under Chatman’s wife’s name; because Chatman was a felon, he couldn’t legally own or operate a treatment center.

When Chatman wanted to open up a second treatment center, Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth, Gregory again helped him fill out the forms, knowing that Chatman, and not Laura, was the real owner of the business.

Federal prosecutors said Gregory has shown remorse for his actions.

“While the defendant has not yet completed his cooperation, he has fully accepted responsibility, recognized his wrongdoing and shown true remorse, and assisted significantly in the investigation,” federal prosecutors wrote in a recent filing.

Chatman and his wife are scheduled to be sentenced May 17. He faces up to life behind bars. His wife, Laura, faces up to 10 years in prison.

 

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.

Chatman defendant: Feds, state target sober homes together

IMG_0237

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.

“Generation Heroin” inspires dance performance Sunday in Boynton Beach

The opioid epidemic is the topic of an improvisational modern dance performance that will be included Sunday in Boynton Beach at a festival for First Amendment rights.

Gaynelle Gosselin said she was inspired to curate the performance piece, called “State of Emergency,” after seeing The Palm Beach Post’s Generation Heroin special section on Nov. 20.

The newspaper’s front page that day included the faces off all 216 people who died of an accidental opioid-related overdose in Palm Beach County in 2015.

“State of Emergency” — which will be performed around 6 p.m. Sunday during the KeroWacked Festival in the Boynton Beach Art District — is set to a poem entitled, “And I Listened” by Shannon Willis.

Scattered among the verses is a reading of names of lives lost to addiction and overdose.

Local actor and recovery advocate Gary Kimble will be performing the verse, while James Fata, local recovery advocate and chapter lead for Young People In Recovery lists the names of those we have lost.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, center, talks with Linda Mautner, left and Gaynelle Gosselin, right, in West Palm Beach in 2014. Mautner’s 20-year-old son his own life in July and she believes his Kratom addiction was a contributing factor in his death. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Gosselin, co-Founder of See Change Dance will dance in remembrance. Community members are invited to participate and hold banners inscribed with a name and a memory of someone they’ve lost to substance use disorder and/or accidental overdose.

The intent, Gosselin said, is to humanize an epidemic that killed nearly 600 people in Palm Beach County last year as well as thousands across the United States.

“These are people, not statistics,’’ she said. “Their lives matter. The performance is a call to compassionate action toward stopping this modern day plague.’’

The festival starts at noon and ends at 10 p.m., said organizer Rolando Chang Barrero.