- By Hannah Winston Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
John Michael Skeffington was worried this year as he saw people in the sober-home industry charged with patient brokering and insurance fraud, he reportedly told a federal confidential witness. He was worried he might be next.
To hide his involvement in sending unnecessary, expensive and fraudulent urine samples of insured treatment-center patients to labs, he thought he could just change his bookkeeping on the kickbacks he made: He would “backdate” contracts, invoices and federal tax documents, making them look like the money was based on hourly charges, instead of an illegal percentage of the insurance proceeds, according to a federal complaint.
Skeffington, who is listed in state records as the co-owner of Skeffington’s Furniture and Mattress stores throughout Palm Beach County, faces charges of conspiracy to commit health-care fraud, attempted obstruction of justice and attempted obstruction of a criminal investigation of a health-care offense. He made his first appearance in court Thursday.
Though it’s unclear how much money Skeffington made on his own, federal investigators said hundreds of thousands of dollars went through several fake health-care service providers — including one that was under Skeffington’s name — in the span of a few months.
The arrest is one of dozens since fall 2016 on the local, state and federal levels in an effort to cleanup South Florida’s mostly unregulated drug-addiction treatment industry. The Palm Beach Post first exposed industry fraud in August 2015 and its November 2016 special section, “Heroin: Killer of a Generation” profiled those who lost their lives to heroin-related overdoses.
Investigators said in the complaint that Skeffington, who has past addresses in Wellington and Delray Beach, had been involved in kickbacks since September 2015.
Many industry arrests have centered on so-called “patient-brokers,” who took payments for lining up addicts for treatment. But authorities said Skeffington stepped in at a different point. He brokered urine, routing it to testing laboratories for “expensive and fraudulent urine testing” using companies with names such as Peaceful Encounters, National Diagnostic Testing, Zenith Health Services and Monty Health Care Services.
Urine testing is the industry backbone, with insurance companies charged exorbitant fees for often unneccessary daily tests, presumably to assure that addicts do not relapse.
Skeffington had been paying those who brought him urine to be tested a percentage of insurance proceeds, the complaint said.
Peaceful Encounters, Zenith Health Services and Monty Health Care Services were based in Boynton Beach and National Diagnostic Testing in Delray Beach, corporate records show. Only Monty remains active.
A confidential witness recorded Skeffington explaining that the “commissions,” or kickbacks he had promised the witness and others were illegal, the complaint said. Skeffington told the witness he worried about arrests sweeping the industry, so he said he had to change the paperwork to make it look like the people earned their paychecks on an hourly basis. He told the person he did this for more than 100 others.
The faked invoice given to the confidential witness falsely showed that the witness was paid a flat-rate of $100 per hour and worked for seven hours.
The complaint said Skeffington had paid the confidental witness more than $12,000 for referrals since September 2015, and that he contacted the witness in August, saying the witness needed “to execute some documents that were needed ‘for an audit.’”
According to authorities, Skeffington is on supervised release for a 2012 mail-fraud case until March 2018. His detention hearing is set for Tuesday, court records show.