FBI raid targets sober home owner in West Palm Beach

FBI agents descended on a dilapidated West Palm Beach condominium early Thursday morning after a months-long investigation into a sober-living operation that is buying up units to rent to recovering addicts.

The raid on Good Decisions Sober Living, which is based at the 84-unit Green Terrace condominium, was lauded by recovery center leaders and elected officials who have struggled for years with proliferating halfway houses that are not regulated or required to register with any government agency.

John Lehman, president of the Boca Raton-based Florida Association of Recovery Residences, said he has worked with law enforcement this year to uncover possible illegal activity, helping connect witnesses with investigators, but doesn’t know details of why the FBI raided Good Decisions.

Good Decisions Sober Living was incorporated in March 2012 by West Palm Beach resident Kenneth Bailynson, who is listed as the company’s president in state records. Messages left for Good Decisions were not returned.

Bailynson, who became president of the Green Terrace Condominium Association within the last year, could not be reached. In addition to his Green Terrace units, Bailynson owns three multi-family properties east of Kirk Road off Melaleuca Lane that he bought in May for $1.2 million, according to Palm Beach County property records.

Green Terrace, near the corner of Belvedere Road and Georgia Avenue, was once an attractive community with units selling during the real estate boom in the mid-$100,000s.

But the downturn left many owners in foreclosure and the association struggling.

Bailynson began buying units in 2011 and picked up speed last year. His most recent purchase was a two-bedroom unit bought in May for $15,000. He or the association owns about 55 percent of the 84 units. Only 12 condos have homestead exemptions, indicating the owner considers it the primary residence.

“This place saved my life,” said Good Decisions Sober Living client Colton Cunningham, who stood outside Green Terrace during the morning raid.

Cunningham said he’s lived at the complex for about 10 months and it has been helpful in his recovery. He said it gave him an affordable place to live that he wasn’t able to find in his home of Atlanta.

But parts of Green Terrace need repair and updating. A bent chain link fence strung with green privacy cloth shields the parking lot. And residents who lived there before the treatment center have complained of rising association fees.

A three-bedroom unit was listed for sale this month for $17,500 with a $700 quarterly association fee and a possible special assessment.

Jakob Heir, a Green Terrace resident, said he was on his way to class when he saw agents outside the complex Thursday and received a text that told him he had two options. “Go into your units or leave and don’t come back until it’s all done.”

Police calls to Green Terrace totaled 180 in 2012, but increased 40 percent last year to 253, according to West Palm Beach records.

“The enormity of this problem and the tentacles that emanate from it are staggering in terms of impact to cities,” said Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, about the growth and lack of regulation of sober homes. “The good operators have been overwhelmed by the opportunists who see this loophole and are exploiting it in such a way that is incredibly frustrating because our hands are completely tied and they know it.”

Addicts are considered disabled under federal law. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act protect them from housing discrimination. The federal Fair Housing Amendments Act also prohibits mandatory licensing, regulation, registration or certification of sober homes.

Sober houses differ from residential treatment centers, which offer 30-day, inpatient treatment and are regulated by the state.

Last year, the Department of Children and Families was directed to develop a plan to determine whether the state should license sober homes. But the department concluded it couldn’t produce such a plan because it couldn’t determine the number of sober houses statewide.

Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, called Thursday’s raid a “shot across the bow” for sober homes acting illegally. Hager filed an unsuccessful bill this year that attempted some oversight of sober homes.

“I think this sends a powerful message that we aren’t going to tolerate the levels of abuse that have been identified in some of these facilities,” Hager said.

Sober houses can get certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a chapter of the National Association of Recovery Residences. Lehman said Good Decisions Sober Living applied for certification, but was not given the recognition.

“Good Decisions simply didn’t measure up,” Lehman said.

Palm Beach Post staff writer Eliot Kleinberg and researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.

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