By DAVID ARMSTRONG and EVAN ALLEN: For More Info, Go Here…
Days after he relapsed on heroin last summer, Patrick Graney received an offer that was too good to turn down.
How would he like to get treatment in a beach town with a hipster vibe in South Florida — with all expenses paid, including airfare from his Massachusetts home? Graney didn’t have to think long. He was on a flight south the next day. Two months later he was dead.
The arrangement — according to interviews with Graney’s mother and girlfriend and saved Facebook messages he sent — was brokered by Daniel Cleggett, a flamboyant figure, and some would say a pillar, in the Boston-area drug recovery community. A former addict who has spent nearly a quarter of his life in jail, Cleggett has turned entrepreneur in the burgeoning treatment industry for people addicted to opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers.
He presides over an expanding empire of treatment facilities in Massachusetts, but he has also helped recruit addicted young people from Massachusetts for drug rehab centers in South Florida, according to the patients’ families and others who know Cleggett and are familiar with the arrangements. Two of these young men, including Graney, died from overdoses in hotel rooms in the oceanside resort communities where they were sent for treatment.
Cleggett has pulled off a stunning and rapid turnaround for a man who was once homeless. He now drives a sleek, black Mercedes-Benz CLS 400 that retails for more than $65,000, and enjoys cruising his boat around Boston Harbor. Recently, he posted pictures on Facebook of him at opening day at Fenway Park in seats steps from the field, and attending a boxing match at a casino.
The 31-year-old Cleggett refers to himself on Facebook as a former “lunatic, outlaw addict” — but one who has been sober for five years and is now committed to helping others follow his path. In a brief telephone interview, Cleggett said he had no role in Graney going to Florida for treatment — despite the messages to the contrary Graney sent. He declined to answer any questions about brokering in general or his role in helping other people travel to Florida for treatment.
“I help people all day, every day. That is what I do,” he said. “I had nothing to do with whatever place he went to.”
Cleggett is just one player, albeit a prominent one, in a murky network of middlemen, often referred to as marketers or brokers, who recruit and arrange transportation and insurance coverage for desperate young men and women from the Northeast and Midwest.
Patient brokers can earn up to tens of thousands of dollars a year by wooing vulnerable addicts for treatment centers that often provide few services and sometimes are run by disreputable operators with no training or expertise in drug treatment, according to Florida law enforcement officials and two individuals who worked as brokers in Massachusetts. Cleggett refused to say whether he was paid to find customers for Florida treatment centers.
The facilities are tapping into a flood of dollars made available to combat the opioid epidemic and exploiting a shortage of treatment beds in many states. As center owners and brokers profit, many patients get substandard treatment and relapse.
The role of patient brokers in steering addicts to out-of-state treatment centers is now coming under scrutiny from law enforcement, including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, according to a spokeswoman for her office. “These recruitment operations take advantage of the desperation of people struggling with addiction to refer them to treatment centers not based on their best interest, but in order to get a commission,” Healey said in a statement. “Patients need to access safe and effective recovery options instead of being treated like paychecks.”
Such arrangements can be illegal in some cases under federal and Massachusetts law if facilities pay brokers to bring them patients and if patients are given inducements, such as free travel or insurance, to enroll in a particular treatment center.