State senator blasts Palm Beach Post, calls reporting ‘criminal’

State Sen. Bobby Powell blasted The Palm Beach Post’s recent report on fraud in the 2016 August primary election Tuesday night, saying the reporting in a Sunday story “should be criminal.”

At a public forum, Powell and state Rep. Al Jacquet took aim at The Post and State Attorney’s Office investigators looking into absentee ballot fraud in the primary election. Detectives found nearly two dozen fraudulent signatures on absentee ballot request forms but couldn’t identify a suspect, The Post reported.

State Rep. Al Jacquet, left, and state Sen. Bobby Powell at a legislative wrap-up forum on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

“It’s distasteful,” Powell told the audience of roughly 80 people. “It should be criminal that newspapers can print something like that and implicate.”

EXCLUSIVE: Read The Post’s report into last year’s primary election

Jacquet took aim at the detectives who questioned voters, calling their behavior “criminal” and “unconstitutional.” Fourteen Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office detectives were assigned to interview voters.

“Someone comes to your door in uniform, bangs on your door and says, ‘Who did you vote for? How did you vote for them? Why did you vote for them? Did they give you anything to vote for them?'” Jacquet said. “This is not only criminal, this is unconstitutional civil rights violations. This is singling out one group of folks and literally intimidating them, suppressing their right to vote.”

Powell said the story was “flawed.”

“The story was not truthful, and it was done in order to damage the credibility of myself, (County Commissioner) Mack Bernard and Al Jacquet,” he said.

VOTER FRAUD: Read the State Attorney’s investigation into the primary election

Jacquet received enthusiastic applause after he said that voter suppression tactics wouldn’t work in the next election.

I guarantee you that’s not going to happen,” Jacquet said. “We’re just getting started.”

The Post on Sunday reported that prosecutors were ending their investigation into voter fraud in the August primary, despite finding 22 people whose signatures were forged on absentee ballot request forms.

The reason the case was dropped is because the lead detectives on the case, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant and West Palm Beach detective assigned to the state attorney’s public corruption unit, couldn’t find a suspect.

Detectives didn’t follow up on basic leads, didn’t interview people who might have known about the fraud and waited eight months before following up with voters who made complaints.

Detectives also never followed up on The Post’s March story, in which voters said Jacquet and Bernard went into their homes, helped them fill out their ballots and collected them. Collecting other people’s ballots is a felony, the report states.

Powell, who said he brought copies of the report to Tuesday’s forum, said that the state attorney’s report does not “in any point indicate that our campaigns were under investigation.”

Read how 30% of Florida’s voting is ripe for fraud

The report does not mention Powell, and only mentions Bernard and Jacquet briefly.

But 17 of the 22 victims, which included a state attorney’s employee and her three family members, were in a narrow area where Jacquet’s, Powell’s and Bernard’s districts intersect.

And the only “person of interest” in the case was Delano Allen, whom detectives never interviewed. He was seen on video dropping off bundles of absentee ballot request forms.

Detectives never mentioned in their report that Allen is Powell’s longtime legislative aide.

Powell on Tuesday came to Allen’s defense, saying that other people must have been dropping off ballot request forms for other campaigns, too.

Delano Allen is my legislative aide,” he said, gesturing toward Allen. “In the paper they indicated that he dropped off ballot requests, almost saying that’s illegal. I’m sure that during the election season, that many Democratic clubs, Republican clubs, many other people dropped off absentee ballot requests. But when it came down to implicating him as to turning in one ballot, he turned in none. That was not reported. Unacceptable.”

It’s not illegal to drop off ballot request forms. The report does not mention Allen turning in absentee ballots. That would be illegal.

After he made his remarks, Powell criticized a Post reporter, telling the reporter that the newspaper didn’t mention that detectives found six fraudulent absentee ballots, which were from outside his district.

But detectives actually found that the ballots were not fraudulent.

“It was determined that 6 absentee ballots were possibly altered, forged, or obtained in a fraudulent way,” the report states. “It was determined through the course of the investigation that there was no criminal activity associated with these absentee ballots.”

After Powell spoke, Jacquet questioned why the three Democrats were even singled out for absentee ballots.

When you go to the division of elections and see the number of absentee ballots that counted in the recent election, the number has continued to skyrocket, because voters are now realizing that they don’t have to stand in line for two, three hours,” he said. “Why single out one group?”

But the candidates’ performance in absentee ballots was well above normal. Their opponents cried foul, and elections experts considered the results suspicious.

In some precincts, Bernard and Jacquet won nine of every 10 absentee ballots cast. They also drastically outperformed the top-ticket U.S. Senate candidates. In one Boynton Beach precinct, for example, 135 more people voted for Jacquet than for all the U.S. Senate candidates combined.

“When you have that type of down-ballot voting that exceeds the top of the ticket, it raises some suspicions,” University of Florida professor Daniel Smith told The Post in March.

Tuesday’s event was intended to give constituents a wrap-up of the Legislative session. But Powell said they first had to address the “elephant in the room.”

The audience included various local elected officials and former candidates, including Edwin Ferguson, a lawyer who lost to Jacquet in the August Democratic primary.

Ferguson actually beat Jacquet at the polls by 132 votes. But Jacquet’s extraordinary 1,167-vote edge in absentee votes easily won him the race.

Ferguson, who is running for the county School Board District 7 seat, declined to address the controversy on Wednesday.

“We came up short,” Ferguson said. “We’ll try to do better next time.”

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.

Doctor charged in Kenny Chatman case caught prescribing opioids

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

Federal prosecutors are trying to get a doctor who worked for notorious treatment center operator Kenny Chatman back behind bars after they say he was caught prescribing the opioids Oxycontin and fentanyl to Medicare patients.

Dr. Joaquin Mendez, facing charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and health care fraud in January, was out on $100,000 bond. As part of the conditions of his release, he was not allowed use his Medicare number to “provide any services,” according to a court filing on Friday. His Medicare number was also revoked after he was released.

But federal prosecutors say that between February and May, Mendez treated at least 188 Medicare patients, and he wrote more than 100 prescriptions for controlled substances that included oxycodone, Oxycontin, clonazepam and fentanyl.

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

Prosecutors wrote that agents learned Mendez was dropping in on assisted living facilities and asking if anybody wanted to see a doctor. He would then either write the patient a prescription or refer them to a home health agency.

A judge will decide whether he will be arrested again.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

Mendez is the only co-defendant who has not taken a plea deal in the massive fraud case against Kenny Chatman and his treatment centers, Reflections, in Broward County, and Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.

Read The Post’s first story on Chatman: Police reports link sober home operator to prostitution

In addition to fraud charges, Chatman admitted to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes at his Palm Beach County sober homes. Last month, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and forced to register as a sex offender. His lawyers said he will appeal the sentence.

Prosecutors say Mendez ordered unnecessary urine drug tests for patients at Reflections and Chatman’s other treatment center, Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.

Mendez would be the second doctor in the case to get caught violating the conditions of his release. Dr. Donald Willems went back to jail after police discovered he was working in a drug treatment center and prescribing drugs he was not authorized to prescribe.

Willems, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, will be sentenced today in Miami. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Palm Beach Shores settles case of dispatcher harassed by cop

Palm Beach Shores is paying $150,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former dispatcher who claimed she’d been repeatedly sexually harassed by former town police officer Charles Hoeffer.

For the town, it’s the latest fallout relating to Hoeffer, whom the town paid $135,000 last year to leave after he was accused of raping a blind woman twice. The town is being sued by that woman and another who claims Hoeffer groped and harassed her.

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing on May 5, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The dispatcher, Lori Saridakis, worked under Hoeffer’s supervision while she worked for the town. According to the 2015 lawsuit, he made crude comments to her, including asking her, “When are you gonna let me get some of that?” He would also grope himself in front of her, she said.

Ten months on paid leave: Officer faces assault allegations

11 women accuse cop of assault, rape or harassment

After she went to the town manager with her complaints, she was fired. The town said her position was simply eliminated.

“I’m happy it’s over for her,” Saridakis’ attorney, Arthur Schofield, said Thursday. “It was a long fight, and I’m proud of her for fighting, which other women couldn’t do or didn’t have the courage to do.”

At least one other dispatcher complained that she’d been harassed by Hoeffer. Saridakis could not be reached for comment.

The town’s insurance carrier, which is paying the settlement, agreed to settle just before the case went to trial. The settlement is not an admission of guilt.

The allegations against Hoeffer were first exposed in a 2015 Palm Beach Post article that revealed 11 different women had accused him of assault, rape or harassment over his three decades in policing with three different departments.

Last week, the national news site The Daily Beast profiled Hoeffer and his history in a lengthy exposé.

Schofield said he deposed Hoeffer for the lawsuit. He called it an “eye-opening experience,” although he didn’t uncover any new details about the officer’s history.

 

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.

State Attorney’s sober home task force meeting today

In its last session, the Legislature gave funding to State Attorney Dave Aronberg to establish a task force to come up with recommendations on how to clean up the sober home industry.

Today, it’s having its first full meeting, with the goal of driving out bad operators and increasing the quality of care for recovering addicts.

What the group will ultimately recommend to the Legislature is still a mystery, but a smaller meeting of the task force, on Tuesday, laid out what it won’t do. And Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, which is leading the group, gave it some areas to focus on.

First, what it won’t do:

  • Johnson said the task force won’t be looking at zoning requirements for sober homes (federal laws make that illegal).
  • It won’t be going after drug addicts or good operators.
  • It won’t be focusing on prosecuting bad operators, although Johnson said the State Attorney’s Office is convening a grand jury to look at the overall issue.

“We can’t prosecute ourselves out of this,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We’re going to knock some heads, I presume. We’re not sitting on our hands. We have a lot of tips coming in.”

Today’s meeting is open to the public and will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the community room of the West Palm Beach Police Department at 600 Banyan Blvd.

So far, the task force is looking at tackling four key issues:

Who should regulate the recovery industry?

Nearly everyone agrees that Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which currently oversees drug treatment centers, doesn’t have the resources to do it adequately.

Instead, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses health care facilities, is widely considered the more appropriate department for the job, and the task force will look at whether transferring the responsibilities is possible.

Sober homes, however, can’t be regulated because of federal housing and disability laws.

But the idea is to get them voluntarily certified by an accrediting agency — in this case, the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, which has strict guidelines and requirements for its members.

But FARR doesn’t have enough funding to certify the thousands of sober homes in the state. So one of the task force members proposed having the members themselves fund the process. Johnson said that could be a good idea.

“If we left this up to DCF to license and register, we’d be little better off than where we are now,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when an industry regulates its own, it can be as effect or more effective than government.”

Clearing up the laws

Much of the task force’s focus is going to be clearing up the laws to make it clear what’s legal and what’s not.

At Tuesday’s meeting, lawyers for sober homes said their clients spend a lot of money on lawyers simply to figure out how to operate within the law.

That’s because the laws are confusing, said Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

“The providers want clarity. They want to know what’s okay and what’s not okay,” he said.

How should recovering addicts pay for rent at sober homes?

Current patient brokering laws don’t allow medical providers to bribe patients to go to their business or pay for headhunters to lure patients.

That also goes for the drug treatment industry. But patient brokering is considered rampant in the industry, with recovering addicts often enticed to stay at sober homes with offers of free gifts or free rent.

But it’s not really free. In some cases, the addict has to go to a particular outpatient therapy during the day, which charges the person’s insurance. Or the sober home simply wants the addicts in the home so it can make money drug-testing them.

Johnson proposed a radical idea: make it legal for treatment centers to pay for an addicts’ rent at a certified sober home.

That would accomplish two things: good sober homes would automatically have a leg up on the bad actors, because they’d be certified, and bad actors would be encouraged to clean up their act and get certified.

How should sober homes be marketed?

This is another gray area.

Fontaine wanted to know if anything could be done about treatment centers or sober homes that falsely advertise their services or facilities. He said he spoke to one addict’s mother, for example,

And there’s another area of marketing that is a source of concern. Many sober home and treatment center operators will pay people, known as “marketers,” to bring in patients, which is illegal.

But the industry wants that cleared up, too. Attorney Jeffrey Lynne said licensed interventionists are worried about how they can be paid for their work without violating the patient brokering laws.

“That’s what their job is, to do intake and where to place someone,” Lynne said. “Their whole profession has been tainted by this concept of marketing.”

Fired Palm Beach Shores cop accused of rape wanted $575K to settle case

Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back in West Palm Beach, FL on May 5, 2016. Palm Beach Shores police chief says FBI is not going to pursue charges against Hoeffer, who is alleged to have committed sexual assault. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer attends an arbitration hearing where he is arguing for his job back. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The former Palm Beach Shores officer fighting to get his job back after being accused of rape wanted $575,000 to make himself go away.

On the day before his arbitration hearing last week, Charles Hoeffer’s police union lawyer proposed a settlement that would also allow the former officer to retire in good standing.

“We will accept a lump sum of payment of $575,000.00,” Police Benevolent Association lawyer Larry Fagan wrote in an email to the lawyer representing Palm Beach Shores. “We’ll pay the taxes.”

The town rejected the offer.

Hoeffer spent nearly two years on paid leave while the Riviera Beach police, prosecutors and the FBI investigated claims that he twice raped a blind woman while on duty in 2014. Prosecutors and the FBI decided not to charge him with a crime.

Ten other women have accused him of rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence over his 27-year career. One of those women is a former Palm Beach Shores police dispatcher who is now suing the town.

He was fired in January after his police certification expired, an unusual loophole that Hoeffer is fighting. An arbitrator is expected to rule on the case in July.

Fagan calculated the large settlement sum because he said Hoeffer, 54, could work another 8 to 10 years. At the time he was fired, he was being paid $56,622 annually, including supervisor’s pay.

Ten years of pay, with 3 percent increases, would be nearly $650,000, not counting overtime, special details and the supervisor’s pay, which is about $3,000 per year.

That, plus $18,866 in back pay and 750 hours of accrued vacation, holiday and sick leave would total $691,300, Fagan calculated in the proposal.

Despite that amount, Hoeffer was willing to take the $575,000 in a lump sum, Fagan wrote.

Palm Beach Shores chief: FBI won’t charge officer accused of rape

The FBI investigated and decided not to bring charges against a former Palm Beach Shores police officer accused of twice raping a blind woman in her home, the department’s police chief said today.

Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department
Charles Hoeffer of the Palm Beach Shores Police Department

During an arbitration hearing for former officer Charles Hoeffer, Chief Duncan Young said two FBI agents met with him in April, and last week they told him they had found “no evidence of a criminal nature to proceed” with the case.

The State Attorney’s Office also decided not to bring charges in the case, Young said.

Duncan fired Hoeffer in January when his state certification lapsed following nearly two years on paid administrative leave.

The Palm Beach Post reported in February 2015 that 11 different women had made accusations against Hoeffer during his career, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

Hoeffer is fighting the unusual firing, saying he wasn’t notified his four-year mandatory certification was going to expire. He needed retraining to maintain it.

Young said that Hoeffer, an officer with various police departments since 1987, should have known.

Young said he intentionally didn’t tell the officer about the upcoming recertification because be wanted Hoeffer gone.

“I don’t believe Mr. Hoeffer is of good moral character,” he told an arbitrator this morning.

Hoeffer has been dogged by misconduct allegations, including a separate rape allegation in 1996 that prosecutors declined to charge. At least 11 women have made accusations against him, including allegations of domestic violence, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and making sexual comments to women while on duty.

He was fired from Delray Beach Police Department for attacking his ex-wife, Riviera Beach police fired him on the 1996 rape allegation, but he won back his job.

He’s been with Palm Beach Shores police for eight years. In 2014, a blind woman told police that he had twice raped her in her home. The department hasn’t yet completed its internal investigation in that case.

A decision by the arbitrator could be months away.

Feds charge Lake Worth man in overdose death

Federal authorities on Friday charged a Lake Worth man for selling a powerful painkiller that led to another man’s overdose death, the first case of its kind in Palm Beach County despite hundreds of recent overdose deaths.

Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)
Christopher Massena (Florida Department of Corrections)

Christopher Sharod Massena, 24, was indicted for distribution of fentanyl resulting in death, a charge that carries a 20-year minimum mandatory prison sentence. He was also charged with multiple counts of distributing heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl.

At roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl, a synthetic drug, can be deadly even in small doses, and it’s become common for drug dealers to combine it with heroin.

The effects have been lethal: roughly 200 people died in opioid-related overdoses in Palm Beach County last year, according to Palm Beach Post data. Many of those also had fentanyl in their system.

But while some local police have made a point of arresting dealers for selling heroin, Massena’s is the first case of a dealer being held responsible for an overdose death.

A Friday Justice Department press release hinted that the charge could be a new strategy to stem the growing number of overdose deaths. The FBI is already close to wrapping up a 2-year investigation of some drug treatment centers.

“The DEA is working very closely with our law enforcement partners in Palm Beach County and the United States Attorney’s Office to fully investigate and prosecute illicit drug trafficking activities to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for the consequences of their actions, especially when the sales result in the tragic death of another individual,” DEA Special Agent in Charge A.D. Wright said in a press release.

The press release said that on Feb. 18, Massena distributed fentanyl to a 23-year-old man who died after taking the drug. The man was not identified.

Afterward, Massena sold heroin and heroin laced with fentanyl to an undercover officer four times, according to the release. On April 21, Massena possessed heroin with the intent to distribute it, the release said. Those charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Local court records show Massena has been arrested several times on violence- and drug-related charges, with stints in Florida prisons from 2011-2012 and 2014-2015.

A message sent to Massena’s lawyer was not returned.

Former Riviera Beach commander announces run for sheriff

 

Rick Sessa
Rick Sessa

A former Riviera Beach police commander and radio host is announcing today that he’s joining the race to become sheriff.

Rick Sessa said he’s filing paperwork on Monday, but said he’s announcing the news on his radio show “The Beat: Real Cop Talk” on 900 AM at 4 p.m. today.

“I feel an obligation to run. I can’t sit back and let this sheriff go unopposed for another four years,” Sessa said. “I grew up here, I policed here, and we need to do something.”

For years, Sessa has been critical of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who is seeking his fourth term. He’s been outspoken about the number of shootings by sheriff’s deputies and blames the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for ending a previous incarnation of his radio program by pressuring the show’s sponsors. His show resumed last year after nearly two years off the air.

If elected, “We’re going to reopen some of these shooting cases, and if we find misconduct or coverup or malicious attempts at prosecution, people will be held accountable,” Sessa said.

Sessa, who was with Riviera Beach police from 1986 to 2006, will join retired Riviera Beach police Maj. Alex Freeman and Samuel L. Thompson in challenging Bradshaw.

But Sessa knows he has his work cut out for him. Bradshaw has raised nearly $300,000. Freeman has raised just $14,000 and Thompson nothing.

“I was told by two political advisers that I’m going to need $300,000 to beat Ric Bradshaw,” he said.

He doesn’t have that kind of money. But, he said, “I have a plan. I have a good team of people laid out.”