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.

Chatman defendant: Feds, state target sober homes together

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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.

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.

 

Owner of notorious drug treatment center pleads guilty today

Drug treatment center owner Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to recruit persons into sexual acts, a charge that could send him to prison for life.

His wife, Laura Chatman, pleaded guilty to two counts of falsifying and covering up the ownership of the treatment centers. She applied for state licensure for the facilities even though her husband, a felon, was the one owning and operating them. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Their sentencing will be May 17 at 10 a.m.

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

Chatman had been charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. His wife had been charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and multiple counts of money laundering.

Chatman owned Reflections Treatment Center in central Broward County and operated sober homes throughout Palm Beach County. The places were notorious drug dens, with up to 90 percent of patients – who were supposed to be getting sober – doing drugs.

Chatman’s ties to prostitution were first exposed by The Palm Beach Post in December, 2015. Nearly a year later, federal authorities arrested him.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

State ethics board clears Palm Beach County Sheriff, two others

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and his chief deputy on allegations he misused his position to investigate another candidate for sheriff.

The complaint was filed by former deputy Mark Dougan, a frequent thorn in Bradshaw’s side. He said he filed it about a year ago, before the FBI raided his home, prompting him to flee to Russia.

 

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw speaks during a news conference on Monday, April 14, 2016. During the event, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a ceremonial bill on a piece of victims’ rights legislation at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in West Palm Beach. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

“For them to find no probable cause, when they’re on audio admitting to what they’re doing, the system is broken,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. They won’t hold anyone accountable.”

He said he gave the commission audio recordings of one of PBSO’s investigators, Mark Lewis, talking about going after the sheriff’s enemies.

One of them was Jim Donahue, who was investigated after speaking out about PBSO’s budget.

PBSO records show that in 2010, the department opened an investigation into Donahue, a week after he went before county commissioners with complaints about the department’s budget. He filed to run for office, but never appeared on the ballot. He was charged with four felonies stemming from discrepancies on his 2008 application to work at PBSO. Prosecutors dropped the charges.

Lewis was cleared by the ethics commission. The ethics commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw “disclosed inside information for his personal benefit or for the benefit of another.”

The commission also found no probable cause that Bradshaw’s number two, Chief Deputy Michael Gauger, “misused his position to direct an investigation of a candidate or expected candidate for Sheriff and to recommend the filing of criminal charges against him.”

The board, which rules on ethics issues involving politicians and state employees, also found no probable cause that Gauger investigated others in Palm Beach County.

Bradshaw told The Palm Beach Post in early February that the ethics commission had already found no probable cause against him.

“I was told through my lawyers no probable cause,” Bradshaw said. He described the investigation of Donahue as legitimate.

“He wrote a 50 page letter about how corrupt we were,” Bradshaw said. “The more we looked at it the more we saw he had put inaccurate information.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Sober home cases in court: More charges, another plea

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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.

 

Birds at the Ballpark: Astros, Nationals could have feathered company at new spring training home

If the busy skies over Palm Beach County’s latest public construction project are any indication, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals could have some feathered company at their new spring training home in West Palm Beach.

Click the video and see for yourself: Birds — hundreds of them — have been flying over the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, roosting on newly-erected light towers, on the roof of clubhouse buildings and on batting cage overhangs, along with the upper reaches of palm trees around the site.

 

It’s too early to determine whether the birds will stick around when the Astros and Nationals start playing spring training games in February. But one bird expert who viewed video clips that were shot by The Palm Beach Post on Dec. 16, 2016 thinks they could be permanent season-ticket holders at the $144 million complex.

The ballpark, just south of 45h Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail, is just a mile or two from the Palm Beach County landfill on Jog Road north of 45th Street.

Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016
Welder has some company from birds circling the Ballpark of the Palm Beach on Dec. 16, 2016

“I think it will be a common occurance because of the proximity to the landfill,” said Ricardo Zambrano, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Zambrano identified the birds as “fish crows,” scavengers that can be found picking through trash cans at the beach.

“Once the baseball stadium opens, with fans eating French fries and food, I’m sure they will be hanging around more,” he said.

But there’s not much food on the site now, just construction workers.

Why so many birds now?

Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.
Birds fly over construction crews at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Dec. 16, 2016.

The 160-acre site used to be a city landfill years ago before it was covered with vegetation and trees such as tall Australian pine.

“I think that the open space that existed prior to the stadium was better bird habitat,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club, “but the birds will adjust and become a common fixture at the baseball stadium.”

The teams started clearing the site in November 2015 when the construction started. When the stadium and light towers started to rise in the last few months, the birds discovered new and lofty places to roost.

Another theory: New grass and fresh landscaping on the 12 practice fields and the main stadium.

“It’s a very organic place right now,” said Marc Taylor, the construction program manager for the Astros and Nationals.

“I would expect they always will be there when we are fertilizing or reseeding the grass.”

Flocks of birds could be seen Dec. 16 over the main stadium, sitting on the light towers.

“They seem to like to hover over the batter eye as most lawn work is happening at the stadium field,” Taylor said.

 

 

West Palm Beach lawyer sleuths out how the rich offshore wealth

UPDATE 3:10 p.m. When Sarah Pursglove of Boca Raton realized her husband was leaving her, she turned to a West Palm Beach law firm to track down his enormous wealth, according to a story this week in The New York Times.

What the law firm of Jeffrey D. Fisher discovered was further evidence of how the wealthy offshore wealth through shell companies in foreign countries.

Not only do wives like Pursglove get the shaft, but so do U.S. taxpayers.

Fisher and his firm – Fisher Bendeck & Potter – walks the line of divorce and white-collar litigation, representing the discarded wives of rich men with complex business concerns. When it comes to ugly divorces of the rich and powerful in Palm Beach County, Fisher is often right in the middle.

“The beauty of high-end divorce law it is that it is usually handled on an expedited basis,” Fisher told the New York Times. “If you’re a person like me, who doesn’t want a five-year-long case, there’s nothing better.”

His firm’s website states “Most of Mr. Fisher’s clients remain “stealth,” but the media has covered a number of significant cases.  He represented  professional golfer Greg Norman and the wives divorcing the head of Gulf Keystone Petroleum Todd Kozel and oil tycoon William I. Koch, among many other notables.

Now The New York Times has spun an incredibly complex legal tale of his representation of Pursglove with Fisher as the star.

“When the wall of secrecy is breached, the distinction between upright global citizen and criminal can quickly grow indistinct,” according to the story.

WEST PALM BEACH; 1/27/05: During Fred Keller's murder trial Thursday, Jeffrey D. Fisher, a civil attorney, testifies about the financial and legal aspects of the divorce between Fred and Rosemarie Keller. Keller is charged with killing his wife Rosemarie and attempted murder in the shooting of her brother, Wolfgang Keil. Photo by Lannis Waters/ The Palm Beach Post ... Not for distribution outside Cox papers. OUT Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee Counties in Florida. Orlando OUT. No Sales. TV OUT. Tabloids OUT. Magazines OUT. Wide World OUT. Internet use OUT.
Jeffrey D. Fisher, a civil attorney, testifies about the financial and legal aspects of the divorce. (Photo: Palm Beach Post)

The target of Fisher’s exploration was a Finnish entrepreneur named Robert Oesterlund.  The businessman swore in a Canadian court that his total net worth totaled just a few million dollars despite the fact that he had two yachts, a $30 million Penthouse and homes in Canada and South Florida — a $5.7 million mansion in Boca Raton.

Oesterlund, himself, likes to jet set around the world and stay on one of his yachts in an effort to avoid paying taxes. Statements found by his accountants put Oesterlund’s worth at least $300 million.

Court records show Oesterlund — with the help of well-known Florida accounting firm Daszkal Bolton — was trying to structure his businesses to insulate himself from paying taxes and future litigation, the Times reported.

“I want to have in writing a statement,” he wrote to his lawyers in 2011, “that I can no longer be subject to Florida or U.S. law.” Take every step necessary, he added, to “remove myself from the country of Evil.”4149529614_09b489801d_o

He is also no stranger to the Florida Attorney General Office, which investigated several of his business before suing his company Xacti in 2013. Oesterlund settled  for $500,000.

His wife, Pursglove, helped him run his businesses — at one time as many as 40 internet companies — after they married in 1998. But he told  her on Christmas Eve 2012 he wanted a divorce. Later, he said if she was in Russia she would get only 10 percent of their wealth by law and in Dubai she would be entitled to nothing.

When the Internal Revenue Service couldn’t help her, Pursglove relied on Fisher and his highly creative lawyers at his firm. They spent millions of their own breaching the defenses of the offshore financial world.

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The Cayman Islands – a favorite spot for the wealthy trying to hide assets.

A big win was when Fisher got Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen to prohibit Oesterlund from selling, merging or borrowing against any of his assets.

The lawyer discovered Oesterlund had created a company Omega Partners in the Bahamas that siphoned off most of the wealth from his holding company for his businesses. Omega had one employee: Oesterlund.

At one point, the concern was that Oesterlund would go into hiding to keep his wife from key documents that showed a violation of Gillen’s order. The judge threatened him with criminal contempt.

In court, Pursglove and her legal team accused the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff of helping Oesterlund hide his wealth in the Caribbean through a fraudulent scheme.

Court filings now suggest a settlement — though Fisher and Oesterlund’s remaining lawyers said they were barred from discussing one.

 To read the whole New York Times story click here.

Kratom becomes illegal tomorrow…or not

Democratic Rep. U.S. Lois Frankel has joined efforts to delay the DEA’s attempt to outlaw kratom tomorrow, claiming the drug – abused for its opioid-like effects – shows promise in treating addiction and outlawing the drug would halt research.

kratom2aFrankel is one of 51 members of Congress who signed a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Charles Rosenberg on Sept. 26, asking the agency to “engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters.”

On Aug. 30 the Agency filed notice in the Federal Register that it intended to place kratom’s active ingredients ― the opioids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine ― on Schedule I, a list of drugs such as heroin that have no accepted medical and have a high potential for abuse.

Kratom is derived from a tree (Mitragyna speciosa korth) grown in Southeast Asia. It has become increasingly marketed and sold to recreational drug users as an alternative to controlled substances. Kratom is legal but is currently on the DEA’s “drugs of concern” list.

Law enforcement has seized kratom in various forms, including powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquid, gum/resin and drug patch. Because the identity and purity levels are uncertain and inconsistent, “they pose significant health risk to users,” according to a DEA press release announcing the intention to ban kratom.

However, research funded by the National Institutes of Health at the University of Mississippi and University of Massachusetts found that a kratom extract, mitragynine, could be useful in treating opioid withdrawal.

In 2010 the schools applied for a patent. According to the patent application, “the present invention contemplates that kratom extract may also be useful for the treatment of other addictive drugs besides opiate derivatives.”

According to the letter sent to the DEA, outlawing kratom “will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions – a significant health threat,”

The ban proposed by DEA would go into effect on Sept. 30. The ban would sunset after two years and the agency could downgrade kratom to less restrictive Schedule 3 to 5 – drugs that are less addictive and have come medical use.

The response to the DEA’s announcement has been intense.

In a recent survey of 6,000 kratom users conducted by the Pain News Network and American Kratom Association,  98 percent of kratom users do not believe kratom is a harmful or dangerous substance; 75 percent said it is not possible to get “high” from kratom; and 95 percent said that making kratom illegal would be harmful or society.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers identified two exposures to kratom from 2000 and 2005. Between 2010 and 2015, U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that kratom abuse leads to agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension. Health risks found in kratom abusers include hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death.

DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.