After her 27-year-old son, Ryan, overdosed and died in one of Kenny Chatman’s sober homes in 2014, Tina Pekar called Chatman looking for answers.
“Ryan who?” was his response.
On Wednesday, before Chatman learns how many years he’ll spend behind bars, Pekar will have a chance to confront him for the first time.
“I’ll ask, ‘Now do you remember who Ryan is? I bet you’ll never forget him for the rest of your life,’” she said last week.
Chatman, who built up a corrupt multimillion-dollar drug treatment operation in just three years, faces up to life in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracies to commit money laundering, health care fraud and sex trafficking. He and his wife, Laura, who is facing up to 10 years in prison for lying on official paperwork, will be sentenced Wednesday at the federal courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach.
But for the families whose loved ones died in his care, the sentence, no matter what it is, will be bittersweet: Chatman is not being held directly responsible for their deaths, and nothing will bring them back. The Post interviewed several who will be speaking during the sentencing.
“Kenny was feeding them drugs and holding their meds from them,” said Michelle Curran, whose daughter, Mikaya Feucht, overdosed and died in a Boynton Beach motel while attending Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center in Broward County last year. “So in a sense, yeah, Kenny didn’t put the needle in their arm, but he in a way contributed to each and every one of those deaths.”
Curran, who is flying in from Ohio for the sentencing, praised prosecutors but says she regrets that he won’t be facing murder charges.
She wants to tell Chatman, “You still get to see your children. My daughter doesn’t get to see her children again.”
“There’s no good resolution,” said Susan Ramsey, a lawyer who is representing some of the families. “For me, as a parent myself, I would want him to go to jail, but it wouldn’t fill the hole.”
Chatman and his lawyers will try to convince Judge Donald Middlebrooks Wednesday that he deserves a lesser sentence — 12 to 15 years in prison.
Although he pleaded guilty to turning his female patients into prostitutes and controlled others by withholding their medications, Chatman’s lawyers wrote to the court last week that the crimes didn’t reflect “the man friends and family describe as being consistently compassionate, caring, giving, kind and loving.”
Several of Chatman’s family members wrote letters to the court attesting to his character, including a brother-in-law who is a New York City corrections officer. Chatman and his wife have four children between the ages of 7 and 20.
“Is Kenneth Chatman perfect? No,” wrote his younger sister, Tahisha. “Is he a monster? Absolutely not.”
But the stories surrounding Chatman are so shocking that the probation officers who evaluated him are recommending a life sentence, according to court papers. That punishment took into account the fact that several people died while under Chatman’s care.
He admitted to pimping out some patients on the websites Craiglist.org and Backpage.com, using drugs to induce them. One woman told FBI agents that he kept her and other women in a home in Mangonia Park, the windows screwed shut.
When Curran’s daughter and boyfriend overdosed in Chatman’s company, he dumped the pair in the front lawn of their sober home and took off; they were revived by someone in the home, Curran said.
Pekar said that after her son died, Chatman shipped his belongings back in a cardboard box — including his needles.
“Chatman was one of the worst actors in a virtually industry-wide scheme to defraud insurance companies at the expense of patient health and safety,” prosecutors wrote last week.
Arrested years later
Part of Pekar’s frustration comes from the fact that Chatman had long been on law enforcement’s radar, but he wasn’t seriously investigated until The Palm Beach Post first exposed him in December 2015.
In 2013, Palm Beach police first alerted the FBI that two women told them they were allowed to do drugs at one of Chatman’s West Palm Beach sober homes. In April 2015, a woman told agents that Chatman was keeping women high “in order to pimp them out.” In July 2015, a woman made headlines after she ran away from the Mangonia Park home and was reported missing.
The Post, citing those reports and interviews with former patients and employees, revealed that year that his sober homes were really “flop houses” where patients were allowed to do drugs, and Chatman himself repeatedly lied, denying ever owning or operating sober homes even though he was named in 17 different Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office reports for incidents at his sober homes.
Even after The Post’s story, his treatment center thrived, and the Department of Children and Families even allowed him to expand to a second treatment center in Lake Worth last year.
But court papers showed the FBI ramped up its investigation, doing most of their interviews in the last half of 2016. Chatman was arrested in December, along with his wife and six associates. All but one have taken plea deals, and Chatman’s treatment centers and sober homes have closed.
Charges too late
The charges came too late for some of his patients.
Cruea’s mother, Sandy Hinkle, said she’s “very angry” that Chatman isn’t being charged for her death.
“He’ll never face enough justice for me,” she said. “Her son, she’ll never see him graduate high school, get married, have kids. He’s taken that from Katie. He’s taken that from her son.”
She last saw her daughter over Christmas 2015, and her daughter begged to stay in Ohio.
“I just feel that I’m never going to see you again,” her daughter told her. But Hinkle insisted she go back to Palm Beach County to continue her treatment.
The night before Cruea died, she called her mom and told her she was “dancing” again.
“She said, ‘Please don’t be mad at me; I just want you to know in case anything happens to me,’” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said she still received bills from Reflections two months after her daughter died.
Curran, whose 24-year-old daughter died in July from a carfentanil overdose — an opioid powerful enough to tranquilize elephants — said Chatman racked up more than $600,000 in charges to her insurance.
Her daughter “was funny, a typical blonde,” Curran laughed. “Kid was smart a whip, but not a stitch of common sense.”
Her daughter, Feucht, had two boys, and she remembers her daughter feeling tortured over her addiction.
“I can remember her sitting in the garage crying to God, ‘Why me? Why did God choose me to be a heroin addict?’” she said.
Hinkle wonders how Chatman could have been so indifferent to the deaths.
“We’re coming up on Mother’s Day, and they’re so difficult,” Hinkle said last week, referencing her 6-year-old grandson. “He wants to tell his mommy things, and we go to the cemetery and tell her.”
What The Post Reported
Citing police reports, The Post exposed Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman as a sober home owner who kept women “in a state of impairment in order to ‘pimp’ them out.” The December 2015 story also detailed the drug overdose death of a 27-year-old man in a Chatman sober home. Read the coverage at MyPalmBeachPost.com