Steve Johnson of Palm Springs, Florida was arrested by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force on March 1 on 48 counts of patient brokering. Johnson, 45, is the owner of a South Florida outpatient treatment center called Palm Beach Recovery & Wellness.
Johnson reportedly paid illegal kickbacks to sober home operators in exchange for referrals to recovering addicts with health insurance coverage. He runs the facility with his wife, Melissa Johnson, but she has not been charged in the case. Johnson is being held at Palm Beach County Detention Center. News sources did not say if he has acquired the services of an attorney.
According to the arrest report, agents from the sober home task force raided Palm Beach Recovery & Wellness on February 23. They also searched Johnson’s Palm Springs home and sober home business, Reel Recovery, which he operated out of his office.
Recovering addicts who stayed at Reel Recovery were housed in buildings behind Johnson’s home. The raids reportedly yielded evidence that Johnson signed 48 checks totaling $95,445 in referral fees to someone whose identity was blacked out of the arrest report. It is not clear whether the person who received the alleged referral fees has been apprehended or charged.
Johnson is the 20th person to be arrested by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force since it began its investigation seven months ago. Two brothers, Adam and Eric Lahr of Palm Beach Gardens, were also arrested along with John Dudek of Delray Beach on February 26 on similar charges. News sources did not name attorneys for the trio.
The Lahr brothers, who run a sober home business called Vantage: The Treatment Professionals, each face 34 counts of patient brokering. They reportedly received 34 checks worth $185,904 from Daniel Kandler, the owner of Chapters Recovery Treatment Center in Delray Beach.
Kandler, 41, was arrested on February 22 and is being charged with 93 counts of patient brokering. He allegedly used the same marketers to get recovering addicts as James Kigar, the owner of Whole Life Recovery and one of the first people to be arrested by the task force last October.
The task force, which is made up of numerous prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, is led by State Attorney Dave Aronberg. Aronberg’s office received $275,000 to form a task force to investigate and shut down rehab centers and sober homes that are involved in patient brokering in early 2016.
Unscrupulous treatment facility operators have reportedly made hundreds of millions of dollars by charging insurance companies for unneeded drug screens and other tests. News sources say the addiction treatment industry is the fourth-largest in Palm Beach County. It reportedly makes $1 billion a year, and it was all built on urine drug tests.
It is illegal for healthcare providers to pay kickbacks for patient referrals in the state of Florida. Patient brokering is a third-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Reports say the practice is so common that some sober-home operators don’t even know that it’s illegal.