Rehab in Florida turns into nightmare for Ohio kids

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Sandy Hinkle talks about a conversation with her daughter who is now deceased.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A News Center 7 investigation found a pipeline of young people from Ohio and the Miami Valley who have overdosed and died in South Florida. They were drawn there for help with addiction, but authorities said they fell victim to a scam that turned deadly.

In the past two years, 833 died of overdoses in Palm Beach County. Our review of the medical examiner's records found at least 20 came from Ohio. Most of them were in their 20's including Kaitlyn Cruea of Troy.

"She was my best friend," said Kaitlyn’s mother, Sandy Hinkle. "She would always tell me she loved me. Facebook messages were almost daily."

PHOTOS: Treatment center in Florida turns into nightmare for Ohio families

Hinkle said her 23-year-old daughter had lots of dreams and was a good mother to her young son, but she had gotten involved with the wrong people and drugs.

"She had overdosed. I confronted her and told her that I wasn't going to bury one of my kids."

Hinkle researched treatment centers in Florida because she had heard they had a good reputation.

"For what I knew, at least that was a safe haven for her," Hinkle said.

Karter plays with his grandmother Sandy Hinkle.
Karter plays with his grandmother Sandy Hinkle.

Kaitlyn graduated from a treatment program in Florida but her mother said trouble began in after-care at a sober living home in Palm Beach County. During a 2015 visit home for Christmas, Hinkle saw that Kaitlyn seemed to be struggling once again. She urged her to return to Florida and resume treatment.

"She begged me not to make her get on the plane and one of the last things she said to me before she got out of the car was, 'please don't make me go. I'm afraid I'm never going to see you again,'" said Hinkle.

Two months later, Kaitlyn overdosed and died in a motel room while she was under the care of Kenneth Chatman and his "Reflections" sober living home. Hinkle soon learned that Chatman was recruiting desperate addicts into his rehabs, billing their insurance, and offering little treatment. It is called patient brokering.

"The most basic way I can explain it is; people are pretty much selling people suffering from the disease of addiction," said Det. Nicole Lucas of the Delray Beach Police Department. She said recruiters are paid to bring addicts with insurance to their sober living homes or halfway houses.

"So the facilities hold their meds, hold all their cell phones. They hold their car keys if they actually drove in and they have nowhere to go. They're trapped," Lucas said.

Hinkle was also shocked to learn that Chatman forced some female patients into prostitution.

"I heard things down there that nobody, especially a mother, should ever have to hear," Hinkle said. "It was bad. Real bad."

Kenneth Chatman walks to the Reflections Treatment Center in Margate on December 10, 2015.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Kenneth Chatman walks to the Reflections Treatment Center in Margate on December 10, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Credit: Richard Graulich

Credit: Richard Graulich

Hinkle traveled to Palm Beach County last month to attend the sentencing of Kenneth Chatman, the man she blames for her daughter's death. Chatman pleaded guilty to medical insurance fraud, money laundering and sex trafficking charges. He was sentenced to 27 years in a federal prison.

"Twenty-seven years? Life would not have been long enough," said Hinkle.

Another Ohio Mother, Michelle Curran was there too from Columbus. Her daughter, Mikaya Feucht, overdosed and died in a motel while in Chatman's care, in July 2016.

"He is indirectly responsible for her death because he never provided the treatment he should have been giving her all along. So therefore, she was not given the resources to recover. Mikaya wasn't worth anything to him sober. He saw dollar signs because she had good insurance. The longer he could keep her high and the more times she relapsed, the more money he made," said Curran.

Chatman's treatment centers are all closed and others have also been shut down in the past year. Authorities in Palm Beach County have made close to 30 arrests. But, they said this patient brokering scam is still running not only in South Florida, but in California, Arizona and New York.

"I just feel like I should have known something," said Hinkle. "What did I miss? That's always going to haunt me."

Both moms urge parents to do their homework before sending a child out-of-state for addiction treatment. Curran said it is best to check with support groups first, because these organizations know which rehabs are good and bad.

"You just panic when you find out that your child is an addict," said Curran. "You want to do something immediately, but it's easy to make a mistake."