Licensed psychotherapist gets prison after making $3.1 million healthcare fraud work

Reflections Treatment Center’s Facebook post announcing Tina Marie Barbuto joining the fraudulent company
Reflections Treatment Center’s Facebook post announcing Tina Marie Barbuto joining the fraudulent company Facebook

A Dania Beach licensed mental health counselor with memberships in multiple national professional organizations became a multilevel healthcare fraudster.

And for keeping the fraud rolling at Margate’s Reflections Treatment Center, Tina Marie Barbuto was sentenced in federal court in West Palm Beach to three years in federal prison for attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Barbuto just got permission Tuesday to stay with her mother in Syracuse, New York, and receive mental health treatment until going to prison on March 11.

Barbuto also owes restitution in the amount of $3,132,806.12, the total amount Reflections received from insurance companies while Barbuto worked there.

Hanging all those fraudulent gains on Barbuto tells how much she meant to the operation was run by Kenneth Chatman. He’s doing federal prison time until 2040 as the shadow owner of Reflections and Journey to Recovery in Lake Worth.

Chatman relied on Barbuto for all manner of tasks.

Here’s how Barbuto oiled the machinery, according to her admission of facts with her guilty plea.

Chatman’s previous federal conviction for trafficking in a counterfeit device made him ineligible to own a licensed substance abuse treatment center in Florida. Barbuto loaded up documents with lies that hid Chatman’s ownership of Reflections and Journey to Recovery from the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“Barbuto and co-conspirators caused expensive and unnecessary confirmatory bodily fluid testing to be performed and billed to various insurance plans for patients knowing that patients were not present and did not provide the body fluid samples for testing. Barbuto also knew that the testing results were not reviewed by the medical director.”

Barbuto helped Chatman hire doctors purportedly as medical directors, but in fact used their license and prescribing powers to perpetuate the fraud and move drugs.

One such doctor, Arman Abovyan, was sentenced Wednesday to 11 years, three months in federal prison and $1,058,097 restitution after being found guilty at trial of attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and seven counts of selling or distributing a controlled substance.

Abovyan’s medical license is still listed as “clear/active” by the Florida Department of Health. So is Barbuto’s.

“Abovyan was paid a monthly salary and in return ordered drug testing for the treatment center patients, regardless whether such testing was medically necessary or conducted and billed in compliance with the terms of insurance plans,” Barbuto’s factual statement read.

Barbuto knew Abovyan prescribed Buprenorphine by giving blank, pre-signed prescriptions to people or by using other doctors’ DEA numbers and forged signatures.

The Department of Labor, whose Employee Benefits Security Administration investigated Barbuto, said she “fire a medical director who refused to prescribe medically unnecessary lab testing that would produce kickbacks to Chatman.”

Labor said she later “used the new medical director’s signature to write seven prescriptions for a Schedule III controlled substance containing the diagnosis of pain management in lieu of opioid addiction treatment.”

When clients criticized Reflections in several Palm Beach Post stories, Chatman “informed the clients that if they wanted to return to Reflections they would have to sign affidavits recanting their statements.”

Barbuto drafted the affidavits and was there when they were notarized. To get one notarization, “Barbuto drove with one of the clients and another co-worker to a Postnet Store in order to have the affidavit notarized.”

Labor said she, Chatman and others sometimes intentionally didn’t give patients needed prescription drugs, thus causing withdrawal symptoms.

When federal investigators began hitting the Reflections and Journey, Labor said, “Barbuto and co-conspirators...removed and transported patient records and belongings, including confidential substance abuse treatment information and patient identification information, to a storage facility that Barbuto rented in hope of hiding them from law enforcement.”

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.