One woman is dead and another is in the hospital after they overdosed last week at a sober home linked to Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman, a drug treatment center operator accused of human trafficking and profiled in The Palm Beach Post last year.
Jennifer Flory told the State Attorney’s Sober Homes Task Force Wednesday that her daughter, Alison, 24, died Oct. 14 after she did heroin in a Lauderdale Lakes sober home with her boyfriend and roommate.
Alison’s roommate, Nicole de la Pena, 22, overdosed and was hospitalized a few hours later, she said.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to the bright yellow single-story home in Broward County twice that day, five hours apart.
Flory was asked to speak in front of task force members to illustrate the importance of their mission: to clean up the state’s fraud-riddled addiction treatment industry, exposed in a series of stories in The Palm Beach Post since August 2015.
Flory told them her daughter came from Chicago to get clean two years ago and bounced around between treatment centers.
In August, she went to a new treatment center because the housing came with a special incentive: $350 a week, Flory said. Free rent or other inducements in exchange for going to a specific treatment center is an illegal kickback common in the industry, Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson warned last month.
“She said she was lucky to find a home where she could go and she didn’t have to pay rent so long as she went to this new IOP (intensive outpatient treatment facility),” Flory said.
“Based on what your daughter told you, was that a condition of living at that place for free?” Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman asked.
“Yes,” she said.
She was cautioned not to tell the task force the name of the treatment center, but she told The Post afterward that it was Reflections, a point verified by one of Alison’s friends. Chatman founded Reflections in 2013.
De la Pena’s mother, Johanna, said her daughter was getting paid $50 per week to stay at the home and go to Reflections, although three days before she overdosed, she started going to a different treatment center.
“Instead of charging rent, they were giving her money,” she told The Post.
Treatment centers make up for such giveaways by charging insurers for numerous and often unnecessary drug-screening tests, quickly running up bills in the thousands of dollars.
Johanna de la Pena and her daughter are from El Paso, Texas, and she’s trying to get her daughter to go back with her. She sent her to Florida for treatment in January. Nicole likely suffered permanent brain damage during the overdose, her mother said.
“I sent my kid over here to get help, and she’s honestly worse than she was when I sent her here,” de la Pena said.
The newspaper wrote about Chatman, who lives in Boynton Beach, after federal and local authorities were told he had been prostituting women who were clients of his treatment center, an allegation he denied.
One PBSO report, from August 2015, said Chatman was being investigated for “possible human trafficking and health fraud criminal activities.” Many of the sober homes were in Palm Beach County. Although Chatman denied being affiliated with them, his involvement was documented in more than a dozen police reports and official records.
Chatman could not be reached for comment, and John Howe, who represented Reflections in one civil lawsuit, said he would advise Chatman not to comment. An earlier version of this story referred to Howe as Reflections’ lawyer.
But Reflections’ program director, Anthony Jackson, said he never had heard of the two women or their overdoses.
“That would not be the truth at all,” he said of the two overdoses. “I don’t even know anything about that at all.”
As for offering cash rent incentives, Jackson denied that, too.
“Reflections doesn’t do that,” he said.
When asked to verify the women didn’t attend the facility, in a shopping center in Margate, Jackson said to call back in an hour. He never returned subsequent calls.
Flory also told the task force that her daughter was “recruited to work at a strip club” by someone in the sober home.
Chatman, an ex-felon who spent seven months in federal prison for skimming credit cards, has faced accusations of pressuring women into sex.
In one PBSO report obtained by The Post, a woman told police that Chatman was using one of the sober homes to keep them “in a state of impairment in order to ‘pimp’ them out.”
The Post also interviewed four former clients and someone who oversaw one of the homes who said they witnessed drug use in one of Chatman’s sober homes. In September 2014, Ryan Pekar, 27, overdosed and died in one of the homes near Boynton Beach.
Chatman has not been arrested or charged with a crime.
Since December, Chatman appears to have thrived. His Margate treatment center expanded to a larger location across the street, and the center bought a home in Plantation for $505,000 that neighbors say is being used as a sober home.
He’s also is creating a new treatment center in Lake Worth. Last week, the Department of Children and Family Services granted Journey to Recovery a probationary license to operate.
Staff writer Christine Stapleton contributed to this story.
What The Post reported
Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman, who runs a Margate drug-treatment center, has been scrutinized by police as a suspect in “human trafficking and health fraud criminal activities,” The Post reported in December. See all The Post’s coverage, at MyPalmBeachPost.com