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.

Lawmakers cite Post’s investigation as motive for change

Local lawmakers agreed on Wednesday to cross the aisle and work together on passing legislation to address the opioid crisis and corruption in sober homes.heroin-front-page

During a brief presentation at a meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission and its Legislative Delegation, Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth urged his colleagues to support a bill soon to be proposed by Republican Rep. Bill Hager of Boca Raton that will address sober home regulation.

Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick praised the Palm Beach Post for its investigation of corruption in the drug treatment industry and the opioid epidemic.

“We as elected officials work hard in the community and have created task forces but the media, in particular our local Palm Beach Post, has done a wonderful job with presenting the faces of the addiction problem and the health care issues statewide that effect all of us,” Burdick said, referring to a recent article that estimated the cost of the opioid epidemic at Florida hospitals at $1.1 billion.

Spoon sigAssistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron, formerly the county’s top lobbyist, said he has sent “dozens” of articles from the Post’s series to the White House National Office of Drug Control Policy, hoping to show the extent of the problem.

“We really have struggled in Congress to make the case that we are dealing with a crisis,” Bonlarron said. “This really is a priority issue for us.”

Clemens said he will seek money to continue funding the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force, created by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. The task force has made 9 arrests and drafted proposed legislation.

Clemens and Hager have led the 4-year-long battle to reign in sober homes and succeeded in passing a bill that prohibits treatment centers from referring patients to sober homes that have not been certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.

The county will also seek more money for the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, which is contracted by the Department of Children and Families to oversee drug treatment providers.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Surgeon General sent 2.3 million doctors a letter this week. Here’s what it said

In a historic first, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy has sent a letter to 2.3 million health care professionals, asking them to lead the movement to turn the tide on the nation’s prescription opioid epidemic.

“We often struggle to balance reducing our patients’ pain with increasing their risk of addiction,” Murthy writes. “But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic.”

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy
Surgeon General
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy

Murthy unveiled his letter-writing campaign in March at the the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin in Atlanta. There, speaking with President Obama and other administration officials about the opioid epidemic, Murthy said,  215 million new opioid prescriptions are written every year, “enough to put a bottle of pills in the hands of every adult American.”

Murthy and others at the Summit pointed out that it is physicians who have driven the opioid epidemic with massive numbers of prescriptions.

In the letter mailed this week, Dr. Murthy urges clinicians to visit a website his office launched this month, TurnTheTideRx.org, where they can pledge their commitment to combating opioid misuse by enhancing education for treating pain, screening patients for opioid use disorder, and leading a shift in the public perception of addiction so that it is treated as chronic illness rather than as a moral failing.

This effort builds upon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Opioid Initiative focused on tackling the nation’s opioid epidemic, as well as the National Pain Strategy, the federal government’s first coordinated plan to reduce the burden of chronic pain in the U.S. Continue reading “Surgeon General sent 2.3 million doctors a letter this week. Here’s what it said”

Palm Beach County’s top 3 plagiarism snafus

Melania Trump’s speech – was it plagiarism?

We realized – as so many things in Palm Beach – that there’s some connection to that issue here, and it’s been in the past year: In just the past year, Palm Beach County has seen at least three high-profile events concerning plagiarism. Here they are:
Plagiarizing principal
Former West Boca High teacher Mark Stenner used vast swaths of two popular speeches for two commencement addresses two years in a row. In the school district, students generally get an “F” when between 15 and 25 percent is taken without attribution.
Stenner was baffled at the brouhaha.
“Using copyrighted material or going word for word for the entirety of the speech. The speeches weren’t word for word, I took large chunks of them. The speech is famous on the Internet, it had a couple of million hits on YouTube, so I didn’t give it a second thought. … If I had used ‘Fourscore and seven years ago’ would I have needed to credit that author?”

And a soon-to-be school superintendent …
Anthony Hamlet, former Palm Beach County administrator and chosen superintendent to lead Pittsburgh school, used words that were not his own on his resume and during his first news conference.
“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system while devoting resources to those who need them the most,” Hamlet wrote in his resume. It came from a February 2015 Washington Post editorial about a superintendent in Maryland.
Also, his issues about school grades.

And finally, ask not what you can do for your city
Steven Grant, Boynton Beach’s mayor, chose a great speaker to inspire his first public speech as mayor. He said he used John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address as a guide, got all ideas from him, changed some words around, but failed to tell anybody he did so — until he was asked by The Palm Beach Post.
Some excerpts:
JFK’s words: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.”
Grant goes on to say, “Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch is passed to a new generation of Americans, tempered by terrorism, disciplined by technology, proud of our ancient heritage and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of human rights to which this nation has always been committed…”
The 33-year-old mayor is defending himself saying, “I don’t think that the whole having a speech at a legislative session requires me to cite my sources.”

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.”

What kind of fentanyl killed Prince?

An overdose of the potent painkiller fentanyl killed Prince but how the drug got into the superstar’s system remains unknown.Prince

An autopsy report released Thursday shows Prince died of an accidental, “self-administered” overdose. However, the report does not say whether the drug was injected, swallowed or delivered via a transdermal patch. No other drugs were mentioned in the report.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid only prescribed to those already taking opiates for severe pain. The drug is so potent – 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine – that it is measured in grains. The drug is fast acting and those who overdose die quickly.

Fentanyl is increasingly found mixed with heroin. The drug combination is being blamed for the spike in overdose deaths. Fentanyl was found in at least 20 percent of the 380 suspected overdose deaths in Palm Beach County last year.

Read more about the addiction epidemic in Palm Beach County in The Post’s investigative series Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush.

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.