A fake sober home owner in Florida was just sentenced to 27 years in prison, but the practice of defrauding insurance companies and exploiting addicts is a nationwide problem. Around the country, fake recovery housing has been popping up to take advantage of this vulnerable population, all so that they can bill the insurance companies.

Florida’s crisis came to a head in 2015, when dozens of people decided to defraud insurance agencies at the expense of suffering addicts. Without regulations governing sober homes, it was easy for just about anyone to run the scam. By 2016 the ruse had gotten so bad in West Palm Beach that the police created a Sober Homes Task Force to investigate.

Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman, a former “sober homes” owner in West Palm Beach, Florida, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for fraud, abuse, and exploitation he committed during the course of running his scam business. Mr. Chatman was a part of a huge investigation that netted over 25 arrests. The Chatman investigation commenced after a rash of overdoses and a death on one of his properties.

The small drug-treatment provider that earned millions in profit every year and committed many crimes over the course of his business. The court found that Mr. Chatman’s fake treatment centers led to relapses, overdoses, death and he’d even sexual assaulted multiple patients. He had even spent time “pimping out” some of the people he was supposed to be helping get clean. In other sober homes, he withheld patients’ medications and food stamps to control them. He continued to bill insurance companies, even if the patients were shooting up. He had the help of dozens of staff members, many who falsified paperwork for him.

Many addicts suffered new trauma, and some of them died, because they chose the wrong place to get clean.

Treatment Scams Can Be Just About Anywhere

Recovery housing scams can happen just about anywhere due to a lag time on establishing regulations. Florida has had many other cases of fraud involving sober homes. In California, insurers brought a lawsuit against treatment providers who were found to be paying clients small fees to attend treatment sessions and take drug tests.

On Philly.com last week, a similar investigation showed that “pimping out” is a common practice for treatment providers, who don’t usually provide treatment but instead ferry their clients around to AA meetings all day. They “pimp out” their clients to treatment centers that pay illegal kickbacks – up to $4000 per client when they are inpatient. Treatment may or not be appropriate for the individual addict, and many don’t address mental health or other obstacles to recovery.

Many people defending the unregulated centers say lines blur owners who often claim to be recovering addicts, and have little experience in business. They don’t know better. They say they want to help people, but their billing indicates they also like to get paid — a lot.

In some cases, people attending the therapy are treated like prisoners and not allowed to mingle at meetings or get access to outside therapy. Most of these homes don’t actually provide therapy, so no support structure is created. Many of the recovery homes are known for having “high churn rates”, which can only benefit the treatment centers that get to bill for every relapse.

It’s unclear what action will be taken now that the Philly report has come out, but if nothing else, it’s opened the eyes of the public a little wider to the problem.

Always Research Treatment Centers

If you or a loved one is seeking treatment, it’s very important to do research during every step of the way. Treatment centers and recovery housing is an important part of the journey, and no one deserves extra trauma or pain.

Ask for the resume/qualifications of recovery center staff. Ask to speak with former clients and graduates. Check for Better Business Bureau records and make sure to investigate any medical claims made by providers. For example, if they are offering medication, make sure to find out who, exactly, is qualified to prescribe and monitor medication.

Make sure you also simply use Google to find out about any complaints, and you can often ask people as 12 step meetings for recommendations. Don’t go into any situation without learning about your options and making sure they are the best choice for you.