Doctor in Kenny Chatman case pleads guilty to health care fraud

July 14, 2017
Federal officials raid a sober home at 1501 N. Federal Highway in Lake Worth on Dec. 21, 2016. Officials charged owner Kenny Chatman and several others with health-care fraud in an ongoing crackdown on sober homes in Palm Beach County. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Dr. Joaquin Mendez, a former medical director for Kenny Chatman’s notorious Reflections Treatment Center, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

Mendez, 52, of Miramar, was the last holdout among eight people arrested in a fraudulent multimillion-dollar drug treatment operation run by Chatman.

He admitted Friday to being essentially a doctor in name only for Reflections between September 2014 and September 2015. Although Mendez was supposed to be seeing patients and dictating their medical care, Chatman was the one deciding when people would get tested.

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Mendez would sign doctor’s orders without ever seeing the patients. He also signed off on hundreds of “certificates of medical necessity” for urine and saliva tests after the testing had already been done — and in some cases, the patients had already been discharged from Reflections.

If he had been closely following the drug test results, he would have noticed that up to 90 percent of the people in Chatman’s care were actively using drugs, as federal prosecutors found.

His actions helped turn Reflections, in Margate, and Chatman’s chain of sober homes into a multimillion-dollar operation, despite Chatman having no experience in health care when he founded the facility in 2013.

Chatman’s crimes went far beyond health care fraud, however. His sober homes throughout Palm Beach County were houses of horror, where drug use was rampant and where some female patients were kept chained up so he could prostitute them. At least four people died of overdoses while in his care.

Chatman was sentenced to 27½ years in prison in May. All of the other defendants also took plea deals, including another doctor and Chatman’s wife.

Mendez had held out because his attorneys, Richard Lubin and Anthony Vitale, wanted more time to review the mountain of evidence in the case, which included 326 gigabytes of digital records and 225 boxes of paper records.

Lubin said today that after reviewing the evidence, Mendez chose to plead guilty.

Mendez is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 27.