Legislature agrees two former PBC students can be paid for horrific injuries

Two former Palm Beach County high school students – one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School – are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.

Dustin Reinhardt holds his dog Deedee while visiting his home in Loxahatchee in 2014. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. He has already received $300,000 from the school district.

The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.

Altavious “Tae” Carter before he enrolled in Eckerd College in St. Petersburg in 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is  headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 before government agencies can pay people who are injured by wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.

In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth in 2011. Both he and his 10-year-old twin sister, Nubia, had been sprayed with pesticides. Nubia Barahona didn’t survive.

Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.

Former Florida Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year.

Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.

Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.

With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has C.H.M, is still waiting to see if the legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.

The money is to help C.H.M. deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.

This year appears to be a good ones for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.

 

Hoverboard-riding Boca armed robber gets eight years in prison

Keon Dennard Cunnington

A 21-year-old arrested for a string of armed robberies that culminated in a purse-snatching from a trio of elderly women while on a Hoverboard was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday.

The sentence for Keon Dennard Cunnington came as part of a plea agreement from three separate cases from February 2016.

They included an armed robbery with a teen accomplice of two men’s iPhones in Greenacres and a robbery outside the Boca Raton library where the robbers dragged an elderly woman to the ground at gunpoint before making off with a purse, credit cards and other items from her and two other women.

Cunnington, who was listed with addresses in Lauderhill and Clewiston, was also accused of robbing another man of his cell phone at gunpoint while the man was sitting on a bench at Veteran’s Park in Greenacres.

According to arrest records in the library case, Cunnington and the teen followed three elderly women to the parking lot of the public library after dark while riding Hoverboards they’d taken at gunpoint from two riders in Ocean Ridge hours earlier.

 The women told police one of the men pulled out a pistol right before they got to their car. He grabbed one woman, 70, and dragged her onto the parking lot floor in an attempt to steal her purse, the report says.

The robbers ran off with one purse with several credit cards and personal items inside. The women had minor injuries.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes sentenced Cunnington to a total of eight years in prison on all the charges as part of a plea deal from Assistant Public Defendern Maegan Young and Assistant State Attorney Emily Walters.

Court records show that Cunnington’s case was moved to mental health court for several months after a court-ordered mental health evaluation in August. The records show he was subsequently deemed competent to stand trial in November.

Dr. Salomon Melgen made and lost millions by multi-dosing elderly patients

Dr. Salomon Melgen’s practice of using a single vial of a drug to treat multiple elderly patients for a wet macular degeneration went from being a bonanza to a bust, according to those who testified Wednesday in the Palm Beach County ophthalmologist’s trial on 76 charges of health care fraud.

Dr. Salomon Melgen, 62, arrives at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach this week.(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

When the U.S. Supreme Court two weeks ago refused to hear Melgen’s appeal in his long-running dispute with federal health regulators, it dashed his hopes of recouping millions he repaid Medicare when it claimed he wrongly used one vial of the pricey drug Lucentis to treat as many as four patients, a practice known as multi-dosing.

But federal prosecutors, who claim Melgen bilked Medicare out of as much as $105 million by multi-dosing, misdiagnosing and mistreating scores of elderly patients, said millions more are at stake.

The high court’s decision means Melgen won’t be able to get back the $8.9 million he repaid Medicare for multi-dosing patients at clinics in West Palm Beach, Wellington, Delray Beach and Port St. Lucie in 2007 and 2008. But, Medicare officials also want the wealthy, politically-connected retinal specialist to repay another roughly $32 million for multi-dosing patients from 2009 to 2013.

An attorney, whose Washington-based firm has been paid about $5 million to represent Melgen in his unsuccessful legal battle with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, told a federal jury that Melgen is appealing the agency’s claims that he owes it additional money. The appeals, attorney Alan Reider acknowledged, could stretch on for years.

Melgen’s attorneys – including one that works for the same Washington, D.C. law firm as Reider – argued that Melgen’s practice of multi-dosing didn’t cost the Medicare program a dime. Had Melgen bought separate vials of Lucentis for each of his patients, the agency would have reimbursed Melgen roughly $2,000 for each one.

But, prosecutors countered, the practice was lucrative for Melgen. Instead of buying separate vials of Lucentis for three or sometimes four patients, he bought one. But he was reimbursed as if he bought one for each patient.

That means if he used one vial to treat three patients, instead of getting back roughly $2,000 for a single vial, he got back about $6,000. If he used it to treat four patients, he got nearly $8,000.

The trial, which began last month, continues today. Melgen also faces corruption charges in New Jersey along with his longtime friend, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. His multi-dosing of Lucentis, and Menendez’s attempts to intervene in his dispute with federal regulators, figure into the prosecution’s case there as well.

 

Boca attorney again asks court to declare Trump mentally unfit

A Boca Raton probate and guardianship lawyer has renewed his efforts to have Donald Trump declared mentally unfit to serve as president of the United States.

Donald Trump
New U.S. President Donald Trump

Attorney James Herb said Trump’s actions over the last 10 days – fighting over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, insisting he really won the popular vote and inciting international turmoil with an immigration ban – reinforce his earlier claims that part-time Palm Beach resident is delusional.

A similar guardianship petition Herb filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in the run-up to the November election was thrown out by Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman. As a state court judge, Goodman said he had no power to block Trump’s candidacy or remove him from office. Further, he ruled, Herb didn’t have a relationship with Trump that would allow him to ask that the real estate tycoon be declared incompetent.

Herb said he has addressed those legal obstacles in a new petition filed Monday. “I did not have a relationship with him but I now do because he’s my president,” Herb said.

Further, he said, he’s not asking a judge to remove Trump from office. That would be done in accordance with a process outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Herb said he is simply asking a judge to appoint a team of experts to evaluate the new chief executive’s mental health. If Trump is found incompetent by the three-person panel, the judge could then limit his activities.

In the petition, Herb is asking that Trump be barred from “seeking or retaining employment.” In an asterisks, he notes that he is asking Trump be prohibited from “retaining employment as President of the United States.” If a judge agrees to the limitation, the order would be forwarded to federal officials capable of removing him from office.

As he did in the previous petition, Herb claims Trump exhibits signs of narcissism and histrionic personality disorder. Both are recognized as mental illnesses by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since taking office, Trump has also exhibited signs of being delusional, Herb wrote.

Herb, who was criticized as a publicity-hound after filing the first petition in October, said his actions aren’t part of some self-serving publicity stunt. A longtime guardianship and probate lawyer, he said his practice is now primarily limited to wills and trusts.

“I’m not interested in getting business. I have plenty of business,” he said.

His goal, he said, is much more far-reaching. “I’m trying to save the world,” he said.

He is not alone in his suspicion that Trump is mentally unfit to be president. A group calling itself “We The People,” on Sunday started an online petition to “Demand Congress Require an Independent Expert Panel Determine the President’s Psychiatric Stability to Protect America.” If they get 99,999 signatures by Feb. 28, the White House by law has to respond.

 

Prosecutors, clerks to host workshop on sealing, expunging records

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoRemember that old criminal charge you’ve always wanted to get removed from your record?

The Palm Beach County court system has a workshop for that.

Officials from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, Palm Beach County Clerk of Court and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday will host a second sealing and expunging workshop for people seeking to have an arrest removed from their record.

Sheriff’s officials in a flyer list eligible participants as people who were ever charged with a crime in a Palm Beach County case that did not result in conviction, adding that people who fit that criteria may be able to a get a single arrest record sealed or expunged.

“Our community becomes safer when those who are eligible under the law for sealing and expungement can get their lives back on track and become successful members of our society,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a press release this week.

The workshop will be held Thursday on the first floor of the main courthouse at 205 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, from 3:00 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Workshop attendees should bring the following:

  1. A Florida driver’s license, Florida issued photo I.D. or U.S. Passport.
  2. A completed “State Attorney’s Preliminary Application for Sealing/Expungement Eligibility,” which can be found at sa15.org.
  3. Any copies of old paperwork available on the arrest. If the case occurred before 2008, call ahead so the clerk has a few days to locate the old file.

For more questions, contact Angel at 561-355-7373 or Lidis at 561-355-7313

State to pay Dalia Dippolito’s trial transcript costs, judge rules

A state agency will pay the cost to transcribe Dalia Dippolito’s second trial to help her attorneys to prepare for her third trial this summer, a judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley at the end of a short hearing Thursday granted defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld’s request to have the state pay for what he estimates will be at least $10,000 in transcription costs to receive a written play-by-play of the December retrial that ended in mistrial.

Dippolito is now on house arrest as she awaits a third trial in the case where she was caught on camera allegedly hiring a hitman to kill her husband, Michael, in 2009.

The “hitman” turned out to be a Boynton Beach police detective who was part of an investigation that began when Dippolito’s then-lover, Mohamed Shihadeh, told authorities that Dippolito was shopping for a killer.

Rosenfeld, who last month revealed he is representing Dippolito free of charge, and California defense attorney Brian Claypool had previously won a request to have Dippolito declared indigent for the purposes of costs and fees associated with her defense. Dippolito has not been able to work since her 2009 arrest, her lawyers say, because she’s been on house arrest for most of that time.

Dippolito was jailed briefly after a first jury in her case convicted her in 2011. A judge back then sentenced to her to 20 years sin prison, but she was released on an appellate bond shortly afterwards as her lawyers fought to get her a new trial.

They won that quest when an appellate court threw out both the conviction and sentence in 2014, clearing the way for December’s trial.

That trial ended in mistrial after jurors announced they were split 3-3 over whether or not Dippolito was guilty.

Kelley set the start of jury selection for Dippolito’s third trial for June 2.

Sober home operator Ken Chatman indicted on new charges

Treatment center operator Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman on Thursday pleaded not guilty to a sweeping 17-count indictment that accuses him of money laundering, health-care fraud and sex trafficking, a charge that could send him to prison to life.

Many of his exploits were detailed in a December 2015 investigation by The Palm Beach Post.

Federal officials raid a sober home at 1501 N. Federal Hwy., Lake Worth, on Dec. 21, 2016. Officials charged owner Kenny Chatman and five others with health-care fraud in an ongoing crackdown on sober homes in Palm Beach County. Chatman has been the subject of Palm Beach Post investigative stories detailing fraud in the sober home industry. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
Federal officials raid a sober home at 1501 N. Federal Hwy., Lake Worth, on Dec. 21 shortly after Kenny Chatman’s arrest. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

The indictment, handed up Tuesday, showcases federal prosecutors plan to shut down what they called the 46-year-old suburban Boynton Beach man’s illicit drug treatment empire that stretched from Mangonia Park in Palm Beach County to Plantation in Broward County and brought in an estimated $5.4 million.

Read the Post’s full investigation on Sober Homes

Chatman’s 44-year-old wife, Laura, along with two doctors who worked at the treatment centers and three others were also indicted, most on money-laundering and health-care fraud charges.

Read the indictment here: chatmanindict.

The five others, who were released on bond after being charged in a criminal complaint last month, also pleaded not guilty to the new charges this week. A sixth, who was not originally charged, is to appear in court Monday.

“It’s the beginning of a long journey,” Chatman’s attorney Saam Zangeneh said after the brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate William Matthewman. He pledged to vigorously defend Chatman, who remains jailed as a flight risk and a danger to the community.

At a previous hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafana suggested she would also ask a grand jury to indict Chatman in connection with overdose deaths that she said occurred at the sober homes he operated. But, she said, those charges would take more time to prepare. Chatman was not charged in connection with any deaths.

Still the charges he faces in connection with his involvement with Journey to Recovery in suburban Lake Worth and Reflections Treatment Center in Margate along with dozens of sober homes are serious. Journey to Recovery and Reflections were both licensed drug treatment centers. As a convicted felon, Chatman was barred from holding the licenses so he and his wife illegally told authorities she was operating them, according to the indictment.

Rather than treating patients, the indictment claims Chatman made a fortune by taking advantage of them along with insurance companies. He turned female patients into prostitutes. He paid kickbacks to five laboratories – in South and Central Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania – to get them to test bogus urine samples, according to the indictment.

In addition to Chatman and his wife, also indicted were: Joaquin Mendez and Donald Willems, both doctors; Fransesia Davis, who worked at the two treatment centers; Michael Bonds, a sober home operator;  and Stefan Gatt, who worked at a lab in Central Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

DIY legal workshops to be held at Palm Beach County courthouse

The Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s office on Tuesday announced a series of free “Self-Service” workshops designed to help people navigate through the local court system and file legal documents.

The first of these workshops, on landlord/tenant evictions, will be held Wednesday at the main courthouse in West Palm Beach from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Other planned topics for the series of workshops include simplified divorce, small claims and sealing and expunging records.

For more information, call (561) 355-7048.

 

 

Boynton man get six months’ jail in pit bull cruelty case

"Lady," mother of the puppies, shortly after her rescue in May 2015. (Courtesy Boynton Beach Police Department)
“Lady,” mother of the puppies, shortly after her rescue in May 2015. (Courtesy Boynton Beach Police Department)

A 36-year-old Boynton Beach man accepted a plea deal Monday that will and him to jail for six months on charges from a case where investigators say he kept a starved pit bull and her four puppies in a filthy crate without food.

Deon Blue accepted a plea on a single felony charge of cruelty to animals and four misdemeanor charges of  unlawful abandonment and confinement of animals.

His attorney, Harris Printz, told Circuit Judge Laura Johnson that Blue accepted the allegations in hia January 2016 arrest report as part of the deal he arranged with Assistant State Attorney Judith Arco.

Lady's four puppies, as they were discovered in May 2015. (Courtesy Boynton Beach Police Department)
Lady’s four puppies, as they were discovered in May 2015. (Courtesy Boynton Beach Police Department)

Among the claims, Boynton Beach police say, an investigation began in May 2015 when an anonymous called complained that there was an emaciated dog and four puppies in the carport of a home in the 2600 block of Northeast 4th Court.

By the time an officer arrived, the pit pull had made it out of her crate, leaving the puppies behind, and wandered to a neighbor’s house. The carport area, the officer said, had a putrid stench of urine and feces, and there was no food or water in the area where the whining puppies were discovered.

Although the home had been foreclosed months earlier, investigators say they quickly traced the dogs back to Blue, who immediately claimed ownership of the pit bull he named Lady and her four puppies.

Animal Control officials took custody of the dogs, and a veterinarian later said Lady was anemic and suffering from severe starvation.

Aside from the jail sentence, Blue was also ordered to may nearly $1,000 in fees and costs.

Boca Raton nanny killer Jerry Wiggins dies in prison

The man serving a life sentence for a slew of crimes that included the 2004 rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman died in prison just before the Christmas holiday, prison records confirm.

Jerry Lee Wiggins, 40, was on Friday listed as deceased in the Florida Department of Corrections website. The site does not list a date of death, nor the circumstances of his death.

Jerry Lee Wiggins
Jerry Lee Wiggins

He is listed on the site as a “released” inmate, and the release date listed is Dec. 20.

Wiggins was convicted in October 2014 for the 2004 rape and murder of 26-year-old nanny Monica Rivera Valdizan. He was also serving a 15-year sentence for the 2003 rape of a Broward County girl and a total 90 years – 50 years for attempted murder and 40 years for armed burglary – for a 2003 home invasion robbery.

His attorneys in each trial argued that, with a severely low IQ and documented mental illnesses, that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

A psychologist found Wiggins “marginally competent” during the nanny murder trial.