Amanda LaFrance came to Florida three years ago to get clean and sober and found herself in court Saturday facing 13 counts of patient brokering — the latest arrest by a task force tasked by the state legislature to investigate corruption in the sober-home industry.
LaFrance, 25, is the only woman and the youngest of eight sober-home and treatment-center owners and operators facing multiple counts of patient brokering. All eight arrests stem from the business practices of Whole Life Recovery, a treatment center in Boynton Beach.
The CEO of Whole Life Recovery, James Kigar, and its operations consultant, Christopher Hutson, were arrested Oct. 25 on charges of patient brokering for paying kickbacks to sober-home operators, like LaFrance, to enroll insured addicts in their treatment program.
According to court records, Kigar, who signed the checks at Whole Life Recovery, paid as much as $525 a week in case-management services for every client with insurance who LaFrance and five other sober-home owners and operators enrolled at Whole Life Recovery — as long as the clients attended therapy.
According to the arrest affidavit, LaFrance deposited $6,750 in 13 checks from Whole Life Recovery for case-management services. Deon Hill, her business partner and the father of her 6-month-old daughter, deposited a check for $525 from the treatment center.
Hill, 50, has not been charged but is currently being held without bond at the Palm Beach County Jail on an unrelated armed robbery charge.
At a bond hearing Saturday, LaFrance’s mother, Laureen Rucki, recounted her daughter’s story — familiar to many parents who send their children from their homes in the Northeast to Palm Beach County to get clean and sober.
Three years ago Rucki enrolled her daughter in Palm Partners, a Delray Beach treatment center. When LaFrance left treatment, she bounced from sober home to sober home — where Rucki believes her daughter learned how to make money brokering addicts because she, herself, was the victim of patient brokering.
In February 2015, LaFrance and Hill started Saved by Grace Recovery, a sober home in Delray Beach. According to their Facebook pages, Hill and LaFrance became engaged on Christmas 2015. The couple had a baby in May and by the end of August, Hill had relapsed and was arrested on charges of armed robbery.
Not long after, LaFrance relapsed. Rucki is trying to get custody of her 6-month-old grandchild and wants to reunite her with LaFrance’s other daughter, who is 9 years old.
“She no longer has that business and she has relapsed,” Rucki testified. “She has no car, no money and has been living on the street for three months.”
France’s public defender asked that LaFrance be released on either her own recognizance or supervised release because she has no criminal history. Rucki asked that she be allowed either to take her daughter back to New Jersey for treatment or to place her in detox in Palm Beach county.
But Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman argued that LaFrance should be held on the recommended bail of $39,000 — $3,000 for each of the 13 counts. The judge agreed.
“These are very serious charges and we are dealing with a very vulnerable population,” Chapman said. “They are being herded like cattle, basically.”
However, LaFrance will remain in jail until she can prove that the money that would be used to post her bail did not come from illegal activities.
Drug-treatment centers make millions of dollars from the urine of drug addicts. As part of their treatment programs, many centers test the urine of recovering addicts at least three times a week.
To get addicts with insurance to enroll in their programs, treatment center operators pay case-management fees to sober-home operators, who provide a roof over an addict’s head but no medical services.
Florida law prohibits treatment providers from paying a commission, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe for new patients. A task force created by State Attorney Dave Aronberg to investigate corruption in the drug-treatment industry has warned that paying case management fees is patient brokering.
However, the practice has become so widespread that many within the industry do not know that case-management fees are illegal.
Aronberg, who created the task force in July with $275,000 from the legislature, said there will be more arrests.
“The heroin crisis is fueled by bad actors in the treatment industry,” Aronberg said. “Our task force will continue to target sober homes that violate Florida law and jeopardize their residents’ safety.”