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 pleads guilty to health care fraud

Dr. Joaquin Mendez, a former medical director for Kenny Chatman’s notorious Reflections Treatment Center, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud today.

He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

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

Mendez was the last holdout among eight people arrested in a fraudulent multi-million dollar drug treatment operation run by Chatman.

He admitted today to being essentially a doctor in name only for Reflections between September 2014 and September 2015. Although Mendez was supposed to be seeing patients and dictating their medical care, Chatman was the one deciding when people would get tested.

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

Mendez would sign doctor’s orders without ever seeing the patients. He also signed off on hundreds of “certificates of medical necessity” for urine and saliva tests after the testing had already been done – and in some cases, the patients had already been discharged from Reflections.

If he had been closely following the drug test results, he would have noticed that up to 90% of the people in Chatman’s care were actively using drugs.

His actions helped turn Reflections, in Margate, and Chatman’s chain of sober homes into a multi-million dollar operation, despite Chatman having no experience in health care when he founded the facility in 2013.

Chatman’s crimes went far beyond health care fraud, however. His sober homes throughout Palm Beach County were houses of horror, where drug use was rampant and where some female patients were kept chained up so he could prostitute them. At least four people died of overdoses while in his care.

Chatman was sentenced to 27 1/2 years in prison in May. All of the other defendants also took plea deals, including another doctor and Chatman’s wife.

Mendez had held out because his attorneys, Richard Lubin and Anthony Vitale, wanted more time to review the mountain of evidence in the case, which included 326 gigabytes of digital records and 225 boxes of paper records.

Lubin said today that after reviewing the evidence, Mendez chose to plead guilty.

Mendez is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 27.

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.

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

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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.

CDC highlights speed, deadliness of fentanyl

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Hypodermic needles were found at a West Palm Beach rental property. Such needles are often used for illegal drugs. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control emphasizes just how quickly illicit street fentanyl can kill drug users, and the report suggests moves that are politically unpopular — such as illegal drug “shooting galleries” in supervised injection locations — can save lives.

The CDC interviewed 64 people in Massachusetts, nearly all of whom had witnessed an overdose in the previous six months; two-fifths of those people also had overdosed themselves. One person warned about how much worse fentanyl was than heroin:

“A person overdosing on regular dope leans back and drops and then suddenly stops talking in the middle of a conversation and you look over and realize they’re overdosing. Not like with fentanyl. I would say you notice it as soon as they are done [injecting]. They don’t even have time to pull the needle out and they’re on the ground.”

And fentanyl is increasing faster than authorities can deal with it. In six months, fentanyl went from being present in about two-fifths of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts to almost four-fifths. And that data is already two years old. The CDC report warns that the report doesn’t include fentanyl analogs, which can be far stronger.

Palm Beach County wasn’t testing for drugs like carfentanil, a horrifically strong elephant tranquilizer, until last year. The drug helped double the number of Palm Beach County opioid overdoses last year, with carfentanil being found in at least 109 bodies. Carfentanil is said to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

Overdoses with fentanyl and especially carfentanil are much harder to reverse using drugs like Narcan and its generic, naloxone. The CDC notes that multiple doses of Narcan are often required. One example of a man trying to save a woman’s life:

“So he put half up one [nostril] and half up the other nose, like they trained us to do, and she didn’t come to. So he put water on her face and kind of slapped her, which doesn’t really make you come to. It doesn’t. So he pulled out another thing of Narcan and he put half of it up one nose and then she came to. … She just didn’t remember anything. She said, ‘What happened? I remember washing my hands and, like, what happened?’ We said, ‘You just overdosed in this room!’ So yeah, it was wicked scary.”

How fast? The CDC itself reported that “Rapidity of overdose death was determined from available evidence, including needles inserted in decedents’ bodies, syringes found in hand, tourniquets still in place, and bystander reports of rapid unconsciousness after drug use.” Lips immediately turned blue; people started gurgling or having something like seizures.

The CDC recommended some ways to reduce deaths, including expanding access to evidence-based treatment. Palm Beach County has lost publicly funded beds, and some privately funded treatment centers reportedly provided drugs to their clients, who sometimes were turned into prostitutes.

The CDC report also pointed to high numbers of overdoses away from people who could help sufficiently. Some 18 percent were away from bystanders; 58 percent were in another room of the house; 24 percent didn’t know about the drug use; 12 percent themselves were intoxicated; 11 percent didn’t recognize overdose symptom and 15 percent thought the person had just gone to sleep. All that means high-quality interventions are few and far between:  “Clear evidence that a bystander was unimpaired, witnessed the drug consumption and was present during an overdose (i.e., able to respond immediately) was reported in 1% of the fentanyl overdose decedent charts,” the CDC reported.

The CDC suggested harm reduction services can help. “The high percentage of fatal overdoses occurring at home with no naloxone present, coupled with the rapid onset of overdose symptoms after using fentanyl through injection or insufflation, underscores the the urgent need to expand initiatives to link persons at high risk for overdose (such as persons using heroin, persons with past overdoses, or persons recently released from incarceration) to harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment.”

The CDC then cites a journal article on supervised injection services.

Justin Kunzelman, president of Rebel Recovery Florida, said the thousands of young people dying will only increase the pressure on government to allow, and support, harm reduction strategies.

“I don’t think people are going to give politicians a choice,” he said.

Kunzelman said because of the increasing overdose risk, more people are carrying Narcan, and, often, higher and more doses of the drug.

Mass. warns addicts about Florida drug-treatment recruiters

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has issued a consumer advisory, warning of unscrupulous marketers “trying to recruit Massachusetts residents with substance use disorder to travel to so-called treatment centers in Arizona, California and Florida.”

According to the advisory,  the recruiters often use texts or social media to recruit patients. Some offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

The Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has targeted such practices as inducements, which violate Florida’s anti-kickback and patient brokering laws.

Recruiters who target Massachusetts addicts often use texts or social media to recruit patients and offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

“According to some reports, the out-of-state treatment centers provide little or no care to the patients,” the advisory states. “In other instances, the recruiters have stopped paying insurance premiums, which has resulted in patients getting removed from treatment facilities and stranded out of state without access to housing, health care, or the financial resources to return to Massachusetts.”

The advisory makes the following recommendations to addicts contacted by marketers for out-of-state treatment facilities.

  • Be wary of unsolicited referrals to out-of-state treatment facilities. Anyone seeking to arrange for addiction treatment out-of-state may be getting paid by the treatment center.
  • Anyone paid a referral fee for recommending a particular treatment center does not have your best interests in mind.
  • Be wary of anyone offering to pay for your insurance coverage.  They can stop paying your premiums at any time, which will result in the cancellation of your insurance.
  • If you accept an offer by someone to pay for travel to an out-of-state clinic, make sure you have a plan and the means to pay for a trip back home.
  • Be careful about giving your personal information – including your social security number or insurance number – to a recruiter, unless you can confirm that the person is employed by a medical provider or insurance company.
  • If someone is offering to arrange travel or cover insurance costs for treatment, call the treatment facility or your insurance company to confirm that the person is an employee.

 

Bondi to sit on national drug abuse panel headed by NJ Gov. Chris Christie

President Trump on Wednesday appointed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – a former rival and deposed head of his transition team – to lead a White House commission to combat drug addiction and named Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi a commission member.

New Jersey Governor and then Presidential Candidate Chris Christie spoke at the Caron Treatment Centers in Boca Raton in December 2015.

During a White House listening session on Wednesday, Trump, Christie, Bondi, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Cabinet members and policy makers heard from a recovered addict, the founder of a drug treatment center and a mother whose son had overdosed and died.

“I am honored to be appointed to the President’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission,” Bondi said in a press release. “I want to thank the president of the United States, Governor Christie and many others for caring about this deadly epidemic.”

Christie has made drug treatment the centerpiece of his administration and has dedicated his final year in office to addressing the drug crisis.

During an event at Caron Renaissance in Boca Raton in 2015, Christie – then a candidate for president – said his empathy for addicts came from his personal experience with his mother’s cigarette addiction and a law school friend’s overdose death from painkillers.

The commission is being rolled out as part of a new office led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has had a frosty relationship with Christie, a former U.S. attorney.

Christie obtained convictions against Kushner’s father in 2004 and 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, criminal tax evasion and witness tampering.

Kushner and Christie had lunch together at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the administration’s drug policy. Exactly what the commission will do and how it will be financed is not yet known.

But Christie offered some details about his plan while speaking at Caron Renaissance in 2015.

“First you have to change the mindset of prosecutors,” candidate-Christie said.  “Sometimes justice means prosecuting and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Christie said he would create drug courts in each of the 93 federal court districts and use the money saved by diverting addicts from prison to provide more public drug treatment.

Christie’s position leading the new commission is a volunteer one. However, people close to him say that he is open to potentially joining the administration when his term ends in January.