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Former deputy, state House candidate faces patient brokering charges

A former Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy who left to open a West Palm Beach drug treatment center was arrested Tuesday on 15 counts of patient brokering.

Robert “Bobby” Simeone, 46, owner of Epiphany’s Treatment Center and an unsuccessful 2016 candidate for state House, was the latest person arrested by the State Attorney’s Sober Home Task Force, which now has netted 21 people.

West Palm Beach police said Simeone paid two sober home owners hundreds of dollars per week to send their residents to Epiphany’s last year. Florida law prohibits treatment providers from a paying a commission, bonus, kickback or bribe for new patients. But the payoff for defying the law can be great: Treatment centers reap huge payments from insurance companies for repeated and often unnecessary testing of patients’ urine.

The owner of one of the sober homes, in West Palm Beach’s Flamingo Park neighborhood, said he had a verbal agreement with Simeone to send him patients, according to Simeone’s arrest report. But once other treatment center busts made the news, he confronted Simeone with concerns.

Simeone reassured him their agreement was a “gray” area, but “everything was OK,” according to the records. The sober home owner disagreed and cut ties, he later told police.

Simeone, a Democrat, lost soundly in November to Republican Rick Roth in the race for state House District 85 after The Palm Beach Post revealed Simeone’s checkered past at PBSO.

In his 10 years as a deputy, he was twice accused of harassing waitresses, and a late-night encounter with a third woman led to a two-week suspension. One of the waitresses called him a “stalker.”

Simeone denied any improper behavior, saying the incidents were he-said, she-said encounters that came with being an aggressive police officer.

“Ten years in law enforcement, we’re going to have issues,” he said. “At the end of the day, I take full responsibility for any of the actions that I was found at fault for. … Do I regret doing things? I don’t really regret anything.”

In 2015, he said he “took a leap of faith” and quit PBSO to open Epiphany’s, in a first-floor office suite at the Palm Beach Professional Center on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard just west of Village Boulevard.

No one answered knocks on the door or phone calls there Tuesday afternoon.

Police came across Epiphany’s through the West Palm Beach sober home, Recovery Rocks. When police subpoenaed one of the owners’ bank records, they found that between July and November 2016, the owner received 11 checks worth nearly $4,000 from Epiphany.

Another sober home owner, whose name was redacted from the arrest report, said he had a “handshake agreement” with Simeone, and received four checks from Epiphany. He said he never met with anyone else from the facility.

Such agreements between treatment centers and sober home operators were for years excused as being in a legal gray area. To get patients with insurance to enroll in their programs, shady operators disguised them as “case management fees.”

But in reality, the state attorney’s office always viewed the agreements as illegal. In September, Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson made it crystal clear: “Cash or other forms of compensation to sober homes, brokers, marketers or patients, either offered or accepted, in return for the referral of patients to a treatment facility or recovery residence, is illegal.”

The Post has extensively reported on addiction treatment in Palm Beach County, an estimated $1 billion industry. At least 20 other people have been charged from treatment centers and sober homes, and many of those were arrested on patient brokering charges. A federal task force has arrested another eight operators. Aside from patient brokering, federal prosecutors exposed labs making payments to treatment centers to encourage a steady flow of business.

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