Patient brokering arrests: Woman, 25, youngest to be charged


Click for complete sober homes coverageAmanda 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.

»» Learn more about patient brokering. Addiction Treatment: Inside the gold rush »»

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.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Pat DiNizio, singer for The Smithereens, dies at 62
Pat DiNizio, singer for The Smithereens, dies at 62

Pat DiNizio, frontman for alt-rock-pop band The Smithereens, has died at the age of 62. The band posted the news on its Facebook page shortly after midnight Wednesday: "It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of the influential New Jersey rock band, The Smithereens – America&rsquo...
Saint Joseph’s School students celebrate with Hispanic Food Festival
Saint Joseph’s School students celebrate with Hispanic Food Festival

Members of the Boca Raton Bicycle Club will be visiting every elementary school in Boca Raton on Tuesday to give bikes to children. Three boys and three girls from each grade at each school will receive a new bike, lock and helmet from the club as part of its annual give-away. The school district has named its outstanding volunteers of the year. Kayla...
Jupiter High students install sunscreen dispensers at local venues
Jupiter High students install sunscreen dispensers at local venues

ALLAMANDA ELEMENTARY Families are invited to enjoy the sounds of the season at a performance at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria. The Chorus and students in instrumental labs will be performing. Call the school for more information. INDEPENDENCE MIDDLE The Winter Band Concert begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday. BRIEFLY The school district has named its outstanding...
POST TIME: Posh Breakers Hotel was a military hospital in World War II
POST TIME: Posh Breakers Hotel was a military hospital in World War II

Readers: All year we’ve been marking the 75th anniversary of Florida being plunged into World War II, up close and personal. We’ll note other places and events in 2018. For now, we look back on Dec. 12, 1942, when one of Palm Beach County’s most exclusive resorts became a haven for heroes in need. The military quickly had realized...
Guara plant resembles whirling butterflies
Guara plant resembles whirling butterflies

A perennial tough as nails yet as delicate as sprigs of baby’s breath is always a winner in the West. In the furnace of the California desert, Gaura lindheimeri has proven its mettle against staggering conditions. During the high heat of midsummer that exceeded 110-plus degrees Fahrenheit this year, they never pause new bloom production. Their...
More Stories