A Delray Beach sober home operator became the fourth arrest in five days by the Sober Home Task Force as it continues its crackdown on patient brokering in the drug treatment industry.
Howard James Fowler Jr., 26, surrendered at the Palm Beach County Jail on 14 counts of patient brokering Monday afternoon. Fowler will not be released from jail until his lawyer can assure a judge and prosecutor that the money Fowler will use to post bond did not come from illegal activities.
Fowler, who has been clean and sober for two years according to his Facebook page, operates Anchorage Sober Living, 705 S.W. 6th Ave., Delray Beach, and Limitless Consulting Solutions LLC. Fowler and three other men are accused of receiving kickbacks for brokering sober home patients to Whole Life Recovery, a treatment center in Boynton Beach.
Fowler joins John Dudek and brothers Bryan and Patrick Norquist, who are all accused of entering into patient referral contracts with Whole Life Recovery.
The contracts, called case-management agreements, are commonly used by treatment facilities to circumvent Florida’s patient brokering law, according to the arrest reports.
That law makes it illegal to “offer or pay any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe” in order to persuade patients to go to a particular health-care provider.
For every client with insurance who was referred to Whole Life Recovery, Fowler, Dudek and the Norquist brothers received weekly payments — as long as the clients attended therapy, according to police.
The checks were signed by James Kigar, an owner of Whole Life Recovery, a police report stated. Kigar was arrested Oct. 25 on charges of patient brokering. Christopher Hutson, an operator at Whole Life Recovery, was also arrested and charged with patient brokering.
The arrests have unnerved marketers and sober-home operators, who have made millions of dollars brokering insured addicts to treatment providers. The better the addict’s insurance coverage, the higher the kickback.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who formed the multi-agency task force in July, said these arrests are just the beginning of cleaning up the industry.
“Our efforts have picked up steam,” Aronberg said. “As the task force moves along, we are expecting to make a big dent in this problem with the hope of saving lives.”
The practice of treatment centers paying case-management fees to marketers and sober home operators has become so widespread that many within the industry do not know that patient brokering is illegal.
Attorneys for some treatment providers and sober homes say the law is vague and claim to have drafted contracts that keep providers inside the law. However, Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, who heads the Sober Home Task Force, disagrees.
“Patient inducements such as cigarettes, gift cards, Xboxes, gym memberships, clothes, shoes, rent or rent subsidies and free plane tickets are illegal,” Johnson said during a news conference in September. “Cash or other form of compensation to sober homes, brokers, marketers or patients, either offered or accepted, in return for the referral of patients to a treatment facility or recovery residence, is illegal.”