A 56-year-old Boynton Beach woman who is accused of helping a furniture store entrepreneur operate a far-flung and lucrative insurance scam pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Monday to a charge of obstruction of a criminal health care investigation.
With her accused partner in crime, John Skeffington, looking on, Mona Montanino pleaded guilty to the charge that stems from yet another scheme that has exposed the dark underbelly of Palm Beach County’s sober house industry.
The 52-year-old Irish-born Skeffington, who once owned six Skeffington’s Furniture and Mattress stores from Stuart to Boca Raton, and Babette Hayes, 58, of Lake Worth, are expected to plead guilty Thursday for their roles in what federal prosecutors described as a bribery and kickback scheme using drug addicts’ urine.
All three in December were charged with obstruction and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In exchange for Montanino’s guilty plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the more serious conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
Free on bond, Montanino faces a maximum five-year prison term when she is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra on July 6. She left the federal courthouse with Skeffington, who was wearing a blue polo shirt, emblazoned with the words “Skeffington Delivery Team.”
As part of her plea deal, Montanino agreed to deliver information to federal agents to help them pursue sober house operators and medical professionals in Palm Beach County, hospital officials in central and northern Florida and the owners of laboratories in Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas who prosecutors said were involved in the scheme.
In court papers, federal prosecutors claim Montanino, Skeffington and Hayes created phony laboratory marketing companies so they could establish bank accounts to pocket kickbacks from the unidentified labs and rural hospitals.
Using bribes and other forms of coercion, the three would solicit urine samples from residents of sober homes and substance abuse treatment centers. Knowing there was no medical need for the urine to be tested, they would send the samples to labs and hospitals which billed insurance companies for the unnecessary and expensive tests. The labs and hospitals would then share the hefty insurance proceeds with Skeffington, Hayes and Montanino.
While the labs and hospitals weren’t identified by name, federal prosecutors said Panther View and A Beautiful Life sober homes in Boynton Beach, Footsteps to Freedom Recovery Center in Royal Palm Beach and Recovery Boot Camp, a licensed substance abuse treatment center in Delray Beach, were part of the scheme.
Before being accused of joining dozens of others in the county’s illicit sober home industry, Skeffington built a six-store furniture chain on the strength of ubiquitous television infomercials that were beamed into 2.1 million homes from Vero Beach to Miami. It now appears his only store is on 45th Street and Military Trail.
In a 2003 interview with The Palm Beach Post, he attributed his success to his eclectic merchandise, collected on trips abroad. “If you have a unique product, you’re going to have a good run even when times aren’t good,” he said.