Florida Doctor Receives 10-Year Sentence For Sober Home Scheme

By Kelly Burch 06/15/17

The doctor was given a maximum federal sentence for his role in the fraudulent scheme. 

handcuffed doctor in white lab coat

A Florida doctor has received a 10-year federal prison sentence for the role he played in a sober-home fraud scheme that prompted widespread investigation. 

Donald Willems, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and received the maximum sentence, according to The Palm Beach Post. According to court documents, Willems signed off on unnecessary drug, allergy and DNA tests during his time as the medical director at Reflections Treatment Center in Margate, Florida. 

The owner of the treatment center, Kenneth Chatman, was sentenced to 27-and-a-half in federal prison for atrocities that occurred in his facilities, including the rape and pimping out of clients. He was convicted of turning his patients into prostitutes, and now must register as a sex offender.

In addition to the sexual abuse, Chatman ran an insurance scheme that turned the center into a multimillion-dollar business, and encouraged clients to continue using. 

“This man ran an addiction brothel,” said Jerry Smith, whose son Schuyler went to Reflections twice. “He’s worse than a pedophile.”

Chatman was arrested as part of an investigation into sober home fraud in Florida. In 2014, insurance company Cigna stopped selling policies in the state because corruption was known to be so rampant. The FBI became involved, and Palm Beach County—which has a $1 billion recovery industry—formed the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force to combat corruption. 

In addition to the federal sentence, Willems also faces charges in a Florida court stemming from the time that he was the primary physician at a Pompano Beach pain clinic. Willems was at that job for one year, and wrote 24,000 prescriptions.

That amounts to about 65 prescriptions given daily and 1.3 million dosage units of oxycodone-related products alone, according to state documents reported by the Sun Sentinel. Willems confessed to writing and signing prescription slips without examining patients.

Because of that misconduct, Willems’ DEA license (for prescribing controlled substances like oxycodone) was suspended. However, he was able to keep his Florida medical license, which enabled him to get the job at Reflections Treatment Center. 

Willems is the first doctor to be sentenced as part of the investigation, but another doctor is also facing charges. Dr. Joaquin Mendez, who was also a medical director at Reflections, is out on $100,000 bond. However, federal prosecutors have asked to return him to jail, saying he was caught prescribing opioids to Medicare patients, which is against the conditions of his release.

In addition to Willems and Chatman, five other people have taken plea deals in connection with the investigation. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.