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.

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.

Two Florida prisons on lockdown

By Pat Beall

Violent incidents involving multiple inmate dorms this morning triggered lockdowns at two Florida prisons, Gulf Correctional Institutional Annex and Mayo Correctional Institutional.

The disturbances come after widespread inmate violence at Holmes Correctional earlier this week, and amid a nationwide call for prison inmates to strike Friday, the 45th anniversary of the inmate uprising at New York’s Attica prison.

Image courtesy of David Dominici @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Dominici @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday night, several hundred inmates at Holmes were involved in what the Florida Department of Corrections described as a “disturbance.” One inmate was injured. Property damage is being assessed. That prison is also on lockdown.

One minor injury to an inmate is reported in today’s flareups at Gulf and Mayo prisons.

“Across the state, there have been a few minor pockets of inmates refusing to work,” said Florida Department of Corrections spokesman Alberto C. Moscoso. “However, these issues were quickly resolved and those prisons not on lockdown are operating normally.”

Mayo, Gulf and Holmes prisons are all in the Florida Panhandle.

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.

Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Familiar names, familiar problems.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.
As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care.

Correct Care is running three of Florida’s troubled state mental hospitals, part of the state system blasted in a recent Tampa Bay Times/ Sarasota Herald Tribune investigation. It also runs Florida’s civil commitment center housing sex offenders.

That’s of particular concern, given GEO’s track record of treating inmates, exposed in a Palm Beach Post series.

On the other hand, not everyone is worried about Correct Care. Late last year, the company announced its work at the state’s South Florida State Hospital and South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center was recognized for meeting key quality benchmarks by The Joint Commission, the top accreditation group for U.S. health care organizations.

The same month, it announced it had snared a Department of Justice deal valued at up to $65 million to run the federal prison in Coleman.

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona program director for the American Friends Service Committee, when it comes to privatizing prisons and criminal justice, “There is a clear disconnect between performance and contract acquisition.”

AFSC is working with Grassroots to research privatization issues, and, said Isaacs, “We see consistent patterns of abuse, neglect, lawsuits, escapes, riots and somehow  these corporations are still getting contracts.”

That was the case with Corizon, which snared a $1 billion-plus contract with Florida to provide medical care to prison inmates despite a trail of horrific inmate care both in Florida and other states.

 

 

 

Hey, Buddy, can you spare a hipbone? A prison inmate lost his to DOC

 

Buddy, can you spare a hip bone?
Maybe someone has an extra one of these laying around?

George Horn got a bed and it only took two years.

That’s two years of sleeping in a prison wheelchair.

This month, though, Horn reports the Florida Department of Corrections has finally come through with a hospital bed.

Horn needs the bed because he has no hip bone. He has no hip bone because FDOC first removed it, then refused to replace it.

That left him in a wheelchair, night and day. Pretty hard to climb into a bunk bed without a hip.

It also left Horn in excruciating pain. And an FDOC doctor took away his morphine, too – cold turkey.

In fact, FDOC’s medical staff ignored outside surgeon’s instructions, and so for months, prison medical staff drained Horn’s infected leg rather than operate on it.

At one point, says Horn, they suctioned the infected liquid out of his leg with what appeared to be dental equipment.

Even when one surgeon – who didn’t work for DOC – said Horn had to go to an ER for emergency treatment of his leg, which was oozing infected “material”, FDOC and its private medical contractors ignored his instructions, the surgeon said.

George Horn
George Horn

But Horn reports he got a hospital bed this month, and Lortab three times a day. He also reports he has an infection in the leg again. And, of course, no hipbone.

George Horn didn’t get to prison because he is an angel, and he would be the first to say so. He’s in for burglary. But as he told The Post back in 2014,  “Being in prison is my punishment to pay my debt to society. I messed up.”

“But,” he said, “I’m a prisoner, not a monster.”

Horn is in federal court, suing both the state and the private medical company which oversaw his treatment, at least, part of the time. They moved to have the suit tossed. A federal magistrate just said no, and in pretty strong language.

Virtual visitation with prisoners: The jury’s still out

Face to face, sort of
Face to face, sort of

Virtual reality, meet prison life: Marketplace radio  reports this morning on the rising popularity of video visitations with jail and prison inmates.

On the surface, it’s a tech issue. But it’s also about whether the inmate will wind up back behind bars, especially if they are behind bars for a few years, as opposed to a few months. There’s evidence that recidivism is impacted by continued ties to loved ones and friends while serving time.

On one hand, the video conferencing will help families who may be hundreds of miles away from the prison. Or thousands of miles: Inmates are sometimes housed in out-of-state prisons, making a visit pretty much impossible.

And anyone who has ever wanted to visit a Florida inmate will wade through a thicket of dos and don’ts in order to get permission to visit, including things that probably wouldn’t be a problem with a video chat, such as wearing a tank top, carrying car keys and having a $20 bill in your back pocket.

On the other hand, there’s the human factor. Will a talk via screen carry the same emotional benefit as a talk behind a thick glass partition?

No big prison reform, but now they can track the chemical spray

Apparently, Florida has all along needed a law- or Rick Scott’s blessing – to figure out just how much CS gas (aka pepper spray)  state prisons have, where they put it and how they can get rid of it.Scott+2015

Finding a better way to trash empty gas canisters is not what the architects of a sweeping Senate prison reform bill had in mind this past session.

That bill was gutted by the House, though, just before it closed down for business three days ahead of schedule.

All along, lawmakers behind the Senate bill said the House’s suggested reforms weren’t reforms at all, but were window dressing: Changes that no one needed a law to implement.

Like figuring out how to inventory pepper spray.

This afternoon, Gov. Scott signed  Executive Order 15-102, which the governor’s office said makes “significant reforms in Florida’s prison system to improve safety, transparency and accountability.” Among the reforms:

  • Establishment of a usage and inventory policy to track, by institution, the use of chemical agents and disposal of expired, used, or damaged canisters of chemical agents.

The order also includes some significant items, such as unannounced inspections and  statistical analysis examining use of force by guards.

Not included, though, was the central Senate reform, an independent oversight commission. Nor were other reforms the Senate considered necessary in the wake of a series of stories by The Post, the Miami Herald and others exposing prison inmate deaths, abuse and unchecked brutality.

Just months ago, FSU’s Project on Accountable Justice concluded the state prison agency was so flawed that it recommended basically rebuilding it from the ground up.

One of the cases cited by the group:  The 2010 death of  Randall Jordan-Aparo.

He was gassed to death by guards.

.

 

 

Another day, another Florida prison guard headed to jail

Columbia CI
Columbia CI

Another day, another prison guard bust.

Make that two guards.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reports that Columbia Correctional prison Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and guard Donald Dwight Sims, Jr. have been charged with aggravated battery on an inmate and, in Jernigan’s case, tampering with evidence.

According to the FDLE, this is how it played out:

The Columbia Correctional Institution guards were taking Shurick Lewis, 41, to solitary confinement this past February when they ordered other inmates to leave the area. Lewis was then taken to a place without video surveillance and assaulted.

According to FDLE, after the beating, Jernigan told other inmates to clean up the blood, put a new mattress on the bunk and throw away bloody clothes.

Lewis, bleeding from his nose and mouth and with a swollen eye, was seen by a prison nurse. It’s not known what care he got, but the nurse sent him back to his cell – where he lost consciousness.

Several hours later, he was found by officers on the next shift and taken to Shands Hospital, where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

The two guards offered vastly different stories: Sims said Lewis fell off his bunk. Jernigan said he used force after the inmate lunged at him.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail yesterday. Sims was arrested Monday night.

All this comes within weeks of the arrest of two prison guards and one ex-guard — all reputed members of the Ku Klux Klan — for conspiring to kill a former inmate.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as the start of a clean sweep, but it does give some credence to  Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones’s written comments about Jernigan and Sims: “The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals.”

 

Wexford and the $500,000 foot

gold foot This jury was ticked.
It’s the only explanation for the $510,000 Illinois jurors awarded Michael Beard, a prison inmate whose serious foot injury went untreated for years by Wexford Health Sources.
The jury awarded Beard $10,000 for his pain and suffering.
The half million? That was Wexford’s punishment.
“They came back with a verdict in less than two hours,” said Tom Plieura, Beard’s attorney.
Wexford is appealing.
Plieura, like most attorneys representing inmates in medical suits, was concerned jurors would not be able to get past the fact that Beard is a convict.
He needn’t have worried.
“It was a really brief summation,” said Plieura. “Just the highlights.” He also threw in a variation of a well-known saying: “You can judge the level of civilization by looking in a society’s prisons.”
Inside his Illinois prison cell, Beard had been seen by at least eight different doctors. For years, almost a1l referred him for a surgical consult.A bony growth on his Achilles tendon was growing, eventually rendering him unable to walk. His leg muscles atrophied.
Wexford repeatedly denied doctors’ requests for a referral to a specialist, documents showed.
Plieura, who is also a doctor, worked in a prison at one point. He understands that state medical care gets it wrong, too. He knows some prisoners lie.
But he points out that Illinois is paying Wexford $1.4 billion over the life of a 10-year contract, and taxpayers deserve to get their money’s worth.
“Who paid for this trial?,” Plieura said. “Taxpayers, when in fact we shouldn’t have been there if they had just paid for the surgery.”
Wexford also handles medical care for prison inmates in Florida, though its contract, and its problems here, pale in comparison to that of Corizon Inc, the Florida provider linked to terminal cancer victims treated with Tylenol and ibuprofen.
In February, after The Post wrote a series of stories about substandard inmate medical practices, the Florida Department of Corrections tossed the companies’ contracts, valued at more than a combined billion dollars. They will be rebid.
For a look at what The Post found: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/privatized-prison-health-care-in-florida-deadly-pa/nhWkX/?icmp=pbp_internallink_invitationbox_apr2013_pbpstubtomypbp_launch#f4be1578.3545241.735667