On Thursday, October 18th, the Department of Justice announced that the medical director of a substance abuse treatment center in South Florida had pleaded guilty to unlawfully distributing controlled substances, specifically opioids, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Kenneth Rivera-Kolb, 65, was one of more than 100 people arrested in the region in June in what federal authorities called “the largest health care fraud crackdown in history.” According to an NBC News investigation, state and federal authorities blame a lack of regulatory oversight for allowing numerous treatment center operators to prey upon vulnerable people struggling to get sober in order to milk them for insurance money while providing inadequate, unlawful “care.”
In 2013, Rivera-Kolb was hired by the substance abuse treatment facility Angel’s Recovery, which also operated several “sober homes” for recovering addicts, and was responsible for writing patient prescriptions. At the time he was hired, Rivera-Kolb had two reprimands from the state licensing board and was under investigation in relation to a patient’s death, yet the Department of Children and Families (DCF) didn’t raise any red flags. In February 2015, his license was suspended for four years as a result of that investigation, yet the facility’s owners, Tovah Lynn Jasperson and Alan Martin Bostom, allowed him to continue working in his same capacity until September 2015. According to the DOJ, Rivera-Kolb was also “actively abusing prescription opioids and cocaine” during his time at the facility.
DCF allowed to remain open even after Bostom and Jasperson were exposed as complicit in Rivera-Kolb’s medical malpractice. But that was just the tip of the iceberg of the illegal activities going on behind the scenes at Angel’s Recovery. According to the DOJ, Bostom and Jasperson were running illegal kickback schemes, offering operators of sober homes money in exchange for referring residents “with good insurance” to the treatment program, which charged $1,400 for a day of outpatient group counseling and $2,700 for “lab services,” like testing urine samples. Bostom also gave third parties the cash to set up new sober homes, in exchange for referrals.
Albert Jones was one such third party. Bostom provided Jones with the funds to open up two sober homes in Boynton Beach, along with $150,000 for referring residents to Angel’s Recovery. Mercedes Smith was newly sober when Jones hired her to manage one of the homes, called No Drug Zone, and gave her $550 a week to go looking for people with suitcases near Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“We would have to ask them, ‘Do you have insurance? We have a place you can go,'” Smith told NBC News.
According to Smith, No Drug Zone was hardly a safe place for recovery – there were needles on the ground, and on more than one occasion, a resident overdosed. In October 2015, Katie Cruea, a 23-year-old mother battling opioid addiction, moved in to No Drug Zone after spending the summer at Angel’s Recovery. By early 2016, she had relapsed and moved out; in February, she was found dead of a fentanyl overdose.
Angel’s Recovery shut down in late 2015, so Jones found a new facility to refer No Drug Zone residents to — Reflections, run by an operator named Kenny Chatman. By then, Smith had moved out and Mikaya Feucht had moved in, and taken over her job recruiting new residents with good insurance. According to employees and court records, Reflections didn’t care if patients showed up to group therapy high, so long as they brought their insurance cards. Chatman, who was also arrested as part of the DOJ’s investigation, has since admitted that he and his employees routinely falsified medical records, and he copped to giving clients drugs and prostituting several of Reflections’ female patients. Chatman plead guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and was sentenced to 27 years in prison in May 2017.
Feucht was a patient at Reflections up until her boyfriend got into a fight with Jones, and he kicked them both out of No Drug Zone in July 2016, dropping them off at a seedy motel where law enforcement had responded to 17 overdose calls since 2010. By the end of the month, Feucht was the 18th, having been found dead on the floor of her motel room.
In March 2018, after pleading guilty to participating in a health care fraud conspiracy and maintaining a drug-involved premises, Jones was sentenced to more than 5 years in prison and ordered to pay over $2 million in restitution. Two months earlier, in January, Jasperson and Bostom also pled guilty to federal charges and were sentenced to 78 months and 30 months, respectively, in prison. Rivera-Kolb is facing 20 years in prison and will be sentenced in January 2019.