James Kigar of Boca Raton faced 119 counts prior to the jury’s verdict. Prosecutors say it won’t change the way they approach these cases.
Nearly five years after his arrest and the creation of Palm Beach County’s sober homes task force, the first person charged with patient brokering has been found not guilty of all 119 counts filed against him.
James Kigar of Boca Raton was accused by investigators of paying sober homes to send their patients to Whole Life Recovery, his Boynton Beach treatment center, in 2016. Under Florida law, it is illegal for a health-care provider or a laboratory either to offer or provide any form of compensation to a drug-treatment center or a sober home for the referral of patients.
An investigation by The Palm Beach Post in 2015 found treatment centers across the county were making large profits by charging insurers for many, and often unnecessary, drug-screening tests, which cost thousands of dollars.This scheme was happening as the opioid epidemic was surging in South Florida, where hundreds of people seeking treatment for their substance-abuse problems were dying of overdoses.
Verdict won’t change State Attorney’s approach to patient-brokering cases
Michael Dutko, one of Kigar’s attorneys, told The Post on Monday that his client took the stand during the trial, before Circuit Judge Kirk Volker, and that his story was believable and compelling.
Kigar, who provided a written statement to The Post, said he has “a renewed sense of trust in our justice system and society,” after the jury came back with its verdict Friday.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson told The Post that each case is different and that he doesn’t see the outcome in this trial changing his office’s efforts to prosecute other patient-brokering cases.
Since the Sober Home Task force started in 2016, the State Attorney’s Office has filed charges in 120 cases. Other than Kigar’s case, Johnson said 80 have resulted in pleas and one was found guilty by a jury. He said the majority of sober-home owners connected to Kigar’s case have all pleaded guilty to receiving kickbacks from him.
This case is only the second of its kind to go to trial. A jury found Nicholas Cirio guilty of 10 counts of patient brokering in 2019, and he was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
Dutko said the task force had “noble” intentions when it was created but that its methods were flawed. David Frankel, Kigar’s other attorney, said those methods “became political.”
State Attorney points to changes in state law, licensing
Johnson said his office and the task force are proud of what they have accomplished since they began in 2016. He said they’ve seen changes in the industry and the law for the better.
Instead of dozens of third-degree felony counts of patient brokering as Kigar had, now one count of brokering up to 19 patients becomes a second-degree felony and more than 20 patients is a first-degree felony.
Additionally, Johnson cited more wins for the task force such as licensing for sober homes and more oversight from the Florida Department of Children and Families for licensed treatment centers among other things.
Johnson said even though they did not get the outcome they hoped in Kigar’s case, this does not change the mission of prosecutors or the task force.
“It is business as usual, with a little more knowledge now on how to present our case to the jury (in the future),” he said.
In 2019, the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s ruling and said people who are charged with patient brokering cannot use the defense that their lawyers advised them that what they were doing, paying fees to individuals at sober homes to bring patients to their facilities, was legal.Healthcare Fraud Opioid Crisis Patient Brokering