- By Lawrence Mower Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The last holdout in the notorious Kenny Chatman drug-treatment fraud case was sentenced Tuesday to four years in federal prison, short of the time prosecutors sought.
Dr. Joaquin Mendez was the medical director for Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center in Margate between September 2014 and September 2015, responsible for seeing patients and deciding their medical care.
But he admitted that he was a doctor in name only, collecting $2,500 a month from Chatman to sign doctors’ orders without seeing patients.
In a courtroom packed with Mendez’ family, friends and former patients, prosecutors and Mendez’ lawyers debated whether one year of bad actions should overshadow an otherwise fine career.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafaña blasted Mendez, saying that his actions were instrumental in helping Chatman bill insurance companies millions for fraudulent testing. Chatman is serving 27 years in prison on those charges and for forcing female patients into prostitution.
“This was a health-care fraud scheme that was one of the most cruel and calculating I’ve seen in my 17 years (as a prosecutor),” she said.
Mendez should have known that the facility’s patients were failing their drug tests, and that Chatman was supplying them drugs. But he saw himself as working for Chatman, not his patients, Villafaña said.
“I don’t think he saw those young people as his patients,” she said.
Mendez’ lawyers gave U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks a video with testimonials from Mendez and his former patients.
But both Villafaña and Middlebrooks wondered why there was no mention of his victims in the video.
“It was like he was leading two different lives,” she said: Devoted father in one life, “fraudster” in the other.
She wanted him to serve at least five years and nine months behind bars, and she objected to the judge’s sentence.
Mendez’ lawyer, Richard Lubin, said that such a sentence would be too harsh. Mendez was going through a rough period that year, with his mother, sister-in-law and friend all dying, he said.
And Mendez quit when he saw that Chatman was forging his signature on medical forms, Lubin said.
On top of that, he will lose his medical license, and he’s been “disgraced in the eyes of the community.”
Middlebrooks said he was moved by the testimony of so many people who vouched for Mendez’ career in medicine.
“I was struck by the number of doctors, former patients and employees,” he said.
Before handing down his sentence, Middlebrooks gave Mendez the last word.
The doctor, in a dark suit and square glasses, apologized to the court, the government, his friends and family.
He did not mention his victims.