Feds: Delray rehab owner arrested, billed $58 million for urine tests
By Christine Stapleton and Lawrence Mower – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Eric Snyder, owner and operator of a Delray Beach drug treatment center and sober home raided by the FBI in December 2014, has been arrested and charged with fraudulently billing insurance companies for $58.2 million over nearly five years, according to court records.
Snyder, 30, and Christopher Fuller, 32, described in a 26-page federal complaint as a “junkie hunter” hired by Snyder, were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The document described how Snyder bribed patients with airline tickets, cash, rent and visits to strip clubs. Fuller trolled AA meetings and “crack” motels to find patients, the complaint said.
Snyder was arrested on Tuesday and released on $250,000 bond. Bond was set at $200,000 for Fuller, represented by the federal public defender. Snyder’s next appearance in court is set for Aug. 1.
Snyder’s attorney Bruce Zimet said, “There’s no question he was involved in an industry that was involved in insurance fraud and corruption.” However, Snyder did not “intentionally” participate in fraud, he added.
“Eric has personally been involved in saving many, many lives and making a difference in many other lives of those suffering from addiction,” Zimet said.
Snyder is one of the many drug treatment operators exposed in a 2-1/2 year-long Palm Beach Post investigation that revealed the profits to be made from urine-screening in the county’s thriving but corrupt sober home industry.
Snyder’s treatment center, Real Life Recovery, and sober home, Halfway There, raked in more than $18 million from the $58.2 million in fraudulent claims to insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna and Humana for urine drug tests and “bogus” treatment, according to court documents.
“Urine analysis was fraudulently used as a profit-machine … including double billing for the same patients and splitting samples to maximize revenue,” the complaint said.
The profits have attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. In March, the IRS filed a lien, saying Snyder owed $2 million in back income taxes.
Musclebound millionaire: The Palm Beach Post’s story on Eric Snyder
Snyder, a drug addict, came to Florida from New Jersey in August 2009 for treatment. In September 2010 — with about a year clean and sober — he started his first sober home business. His posts to his Facebook page changed from inspirational 12-Step affirmations and his devotion to sobriety to photos of himself with fistfuls of cash, pricey jewelry, fast cars and new tattoos.
Complaints of widespread insurance fraud in the industry prompted state and federal law enforcement agencies to launch a task force. On Sept. 11, 2014, agents from the FBI and the state’s division of insurance fraud raided a West Palm Beach sober living complex and treatment center called Good Decisions Sober Living.
Two weeks later, FBI agents in Miami received an email from the then-director of operations for Snyder’s treatment center with the subject line, “South Florida drug rehab insurance frauds.”
FBI agents met several times with the director before he or she left Snyder’s company, according to the complaint against Snyder. The person, who isn’t named in the complaint, told agents that Real Life Recovery was billing patients for services they never received.
If a patient was discharged on the first of the month, for example, Real Life Recovery continued billing the patients through the end of the month, according to the complaint.
In one case, Real Life Recovery billed a patient’s insurance company more than $3,200 for two days in 2013. But the patient told investigators he did not attend treatment on those days because he was in jail.
Agents interviewed other Real Life Recovery employees, who alleged a variety of fraud.
An employee who handled billing for Real Life Recovery told agents that Snyder fired him or her after the employee complained that signatures on treatment session sign-in sheets were being forged.
A therapist said Snyder fraudulently created patient charts and backdated them before being audited.
The facility’s clinical director said they were asked to sign notes for patient therapy sessions that never happened.
Other allegations in the complaint are commonplace in South Florida’s widely corrupt drug treatment industry, as described in Post stories in August 2015.Snyder offered discounts on rent for patients who attended intensive outpatient therapy sessions. Rent was normally $200 per week at his sober homes, but if patients went to therapy three times per week, it was $100. If patients went five times per week, rent was free.
But billing insurance companies for treatment and drug testing brought in millions of dollars. One former employee told FBI agents that Snyder said he would rather “eat (pay) $200 in order to make $5,000.”
Snyder paid his patients $200 for every new patient they referred to Real Life Recovery. Snyder paid Fuller to find patients by visiting “crack” motels and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, the complaint stated.
Once he found them, Fuller bribed them with alcohol or drugs to get them to go to Snyder’s facilities, confidential witnesses told FBI agents. Fuller also bribed motel owners and receptionists to call him whenever they suspected an addict was checking into their motel. The motels named in the complaint were the Homing Inn in Boynton Beach and the Budget Inn on Federal Highway in Delray Beach as well as Southgate in Delray.
Kirit Shah, manager of the Homing Inn, denied accepting payments for referrals: “We never had a penny given from anybody.” Operators of the Budget Inn and Southgate did not return calls for comment.
Snyder kept Fuller off the books as an “independent contractor.” Agents found that Real Life Recovery’s Wells Fargo account had paid Fuller or his company, Surrender and Survive Inc., more than $17,000.
According to his Facebook page, Fuller is a group facilitator and behavioral health technician at Royal Life Centers, a Delray Beach-based treatment center. Calls and a message to the facility were not returned.
This is not Fuller’s first run-in with the law.
Jail records show he’s been arrested 19 times since 2003, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and domestic violence.
In 2012, Boynton Beach police arrested him on charges of prostituting women. He told police he would drive them as far south as Miami to meet men, according to his arrest report.
He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
In 2013, he was arrested again by Boynton Beach police on domestic battery charges after punching his sister in the head. He was again sentenced to 90 days in jail.
In the federal complaint filed against Fuller this week, the mother of one patient said Fuller demanded he send her $1,400 before he would send her child into treatment. Real Life Recovery staff later dropped the patient off at the Homing Inn, where the patient overdosed and died.
In a separate case, Myra Cronin, whose 20-year-old daughter, Nicole, died in a shabby motel room where staff at Halfway There allegedly dropped her off in the middle of the night, cried when she learned of Snyder’s arrest on Wednesday.
“This is a small justice for Nicole,” said Cronin, who has filed a lawsuit against Snyder and his companies. “Shame on him and thank God they have taken some action.”