By Jane Smith
Detective Nicole Lucas, who works for Delray Beach police and is a member of the State Attorney’s Sober Homes Task Force, was honored recently for her investigative work.
In collaboration with 13 other agencies, her work led to the arrest of substance abuse treatment center owner Kenneth Chatman and his federal prison sentence of 27.5 years for health care fraud.
Chatman was convicted of skirting state law by having his wife sign the paperwork as owner of the Reflections Treatment Center and Journey to Recovery in South Florida. He also owned several sober homes where residents were given free rent and gifts as long as they attended his centers for treatment and submitted to drug testing, the investigation found. The residents also were allowed to continue using drugs in the sober homes. Several people had fatal overdoses in Chatman’s sober homes.
In addition, the investigation found Chatman and others gave female residents drugs to prostitute themselves. Chatman and others kept the money.
Chatman also paid other sober home operators to send patients to his treatment centers. The two treatment centers billed more than $1 billion to insurers, the investigation found.
The federal government named the investigation Operation Thoroughbred. It involved 14 teams, including Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafana, who tried the federal case; seven FBI agents in Palm Beach County; and Lucas of the Delray Beach Police Department.
Three members of the State Attorney’s Office also were recognized. They are Al Johnson, chief assistant who runs the Sober Homes Task Force; Justin Chapman, assistant state attorney assigned to the Task Force; and Ted Padich, insurance investigator for the Task Force.
The team members worked under federal laws that guard the privacy of patients, including drug addicts.
The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association gave the 14 teams its Investigation of the Year Award in November at its training conference in Orlando.
“The Chatman case is the first federal case that successfully targeted the serious fraud problem that continues to permeate the addiction treatment industry nationwide,” according to the awards luncheon brochure.
Lucas joined the Task Force on July 1, 2016, from the Delray Beach Police narcotics unit. She immediately worked her contacts and asked them about the worst sober home operator. Chatman’s name was raised repeatedly, she said.
“I met with an informant who said Chatman gave him as much heroin as he needed and a gun if he would collect the money from the men visiting a sober home where the women were kept as sex slaves,” Lucas said. Chatman wanted to make sure the women didn’t leave the residence.
Lucas secured the informant’s sworn statement and immediately told her supervisors on the Task Force.
When federal officials were informed, they said they also were working the Chatman case, Lucas said.
She was able to participate in the raid.
“I’m happy he’s off the streets,” Lucas said. “It was too little, too late for some. He was imprisoned for health care fraud, not human trafficking. This is not a Third World country where women can be kept as sex slaves.”