Yoga studio owner beats drug-recovery industry fraud charges

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It’s total vindication for a longtime Boca Raton yoga studio owner who had been accused of fraud in a former drug-addiction recovery business.

The verdict followed about 19 hours of deliberations over three days, ending just the second trial concerning the prosecution of a crime called patient brokering.

Kigar’s lawyers, David Frankel and Michael Dutko, portrayed him as a “yoga dude” who meant well when he joined with others in a fledgling substance-abuse treatment operation called Whole Life Recovery in Boynton Beach.

The defense cast Kigar, 60, as “flipper,” or a harmless dolphin who swam in shark-infested waters where “bad actors” exploit addicts to reap profits.

“He was truly there to help people,” Dutko told the jury, insisting the 119 checks at issue in the case were for legitimate case management services.

James Kigar, 60, stands in a Palm Beach County Courtroom during a recess in his trial, Aug. 6, 2021. A jury found Kigar not guilty of 119 counts of patient brokering concerning allegations that his Boynton Beach drug addiction recovery center paid for patient referrals in 2016.

James Kigar, 60, stands in a Palm Beach County Courtroom during a recess in his trial, Aug. 6, 2021. A jury found Kigar not guilty of 119 counts of patient brokering concerning allegations that his Boynton Beach drug addiction recovery center paid for patient referrals in 2016. (Marc Freeman / staff)

But prosecutor Justin Chapman argued Kigar “paid thousands of dollars for dozens of patients to be referred to his treatment center. Not for case management, but for referrals.”

Florida’s patient-brokering law makes it a crime for anyone to offer or pay any commission, kickback or bribe to promote the referral of patients to or from a health care provider.

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“They just pulled in a really good guy,” Frankel said of targeting Kigar.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson told the South Florida Sun Sentinel “it was appropriate for us to prosecute, and the jury gets to decide.”

The efforts to flush out unscrupulous operators will continue, with 40 cases still pending, and more investigations ongoing.

“People got the message,” Johnson said. “The result was a good result — cleaning up the industry.”

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