When Albert Jones Saye was accused last year of turning drug addicts into cash cows to reap tens of thousands of dollars in illicit profits, he began cooperating with authorities, giving up the names of others involved in Palm Beach County’s nefarious sober house industry.
On Thursday, grieving mothers dashed the 27-year-old Boynton Beach man’s hopes that he would be rewarded for his cooperation by winning a lenient sentence on charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and obstruction of a health care investigation.
“His cooperation doesn’t bring my daughter back,” said Sandy Hinkle, whose 23-year-old daughter died of a fentanyl overdose while in Jones’ care. “Her life mattered. She mattered.”
Michelle Curran, who also lost a daughter to a fentanyl overdose after Jones threw her out of one of his sober homes and dumped her at a drug-riddled hotel, made similar pleas to U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg.
“My daughter, Sandy’s daughter, is only worth 50 months?” Curran asked, referring to the roughly 4-year sentence recommended by a federal prosecutor. “To me, it’s a slap in the face.”
Ultimately, Rosenberg sided with the mothers.
She said she recognized that to rein in the burgeoning industry that preys on drug addicts, prosecutors have to make deals with those who have benefited from it. But, she said, two women died.
“Among the most vulnerable people come to a place, a sober home, to seek treatment and to become less vulnerable … and in the best-case scenario to become healthy and free of their addiction,” she said. “This is not what was offered at the homes operated by the defendant.”
Instead of the 50 months recommended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafana, Rosenberg sentenced Jones to 71 months in prison. The nearly six-year sentence was the most allowed under federal sentencing guidelines. The judge also ordered Jones to pay $2.1 million in restitution.
Jones made his money by cashing in on a system devised by notorious sober home operator Kenny Chatman. Three times a week, Chatman would send vans to pick up residents of sober homes Jones operated in Delray Beach, Lake Worth and Boynton Beach, federal agents said. The vans would take recovering drug addicts who had insurance to a treatment center Chatman operated to have their blood, urine and saliva tested.
Jones was paid thousands of dollars in kickbacks because the body fluids were liquid gold for Chatman, the agent said. The unnecessary tests would be sent to labs that cooperated in the scheme by billing insurers and sharing the payments with Chatman, now serving a 27-year sentence for running the illegal operation.
Chatman, who lived in a $1 million house in suburban Boynton, wasn’t the biggest operator, Villafana has said. But he was “the most dangerous,” turning residents of his sober homes into prostitutes and, like Jones, plying them with drugs and contributing to overdose deaths, she said.
Villafana credited Jones with helping agents shutter what she described as one of the biggest sober house operations in the county. Jones led them to Tovah Lynn “Tara” Jasperson, a 48-year-old Wellington woman who operated Angel’s Recovery at multiple locations. In January, Jasperson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud while her sidekick, Alan Bostom, 75, pleaded guilty to falsifying material facts in a health care fraud investigation. Both are to be sentenced on May 11.
In pushing for a lenient sentence for Jones, Villafana said working with accused criminals is key to shutting down the illegal sober home industry. “To stop a freight train — which is what the industry has become — depends on people like Mr. Jones coming forward,” she said.
Since state and federal officials started the crackdown roughly two years ago, deaths from opiod overdoses have fallen by 50 percent, Villafana said. Prosecutors have charged 21 one-time industry leaders; 17 have been convicted. “We anticipate many more,” she said.
Further, she said, Jones was a victim of the industry.
Raised in war-torn Liberia before moving to the United States, Jones came to Florida to kick his own drug habit, said attorney Ruben Garcia, who represented Jones. Instead, he said, Jones was lured into the illicit business.
Jones apologized to Hinkle and Curran for his role in their daughter’s deaths. “I hope you will have it in your hearts to forgive me for what I did,” he told them. “If I had a chance to go back and undo everything I did, I would.”
His odyssey through the court system isn’t over. He faces burglary charges in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.