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Children of wounded soldiers charity stiffed; Navy veteran founder accused of theft

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)
February 27, 2020

The charity advertises itself as a helping hand for children of fallen military men and women, cops and firefighters.

But former Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy and Navy veteran Robert “Bobby” Simeone — who founded and ran Children of Wounded Warriors — used the organization to stuff his own pockets for years, authorities say.

And they allege Simeone brazenly did it after being charged in 2017 with numerous felonies in a separate case, in which he’s accused of paying kickbacks to lure patients into his drug treatment center in West Palm Beach.

Simeone, 49, appeared Friday before Circuit Judge Ted Booras, a day after his arrest on charges of organized scheme to defraud, money laundering and grand theft.

While he was granted $230,000 bond on the six new charges, Booras revoked his bond on 26 counts of patient brokering. So for now, Simeone will remain in custody at Palm Beach County Jail.

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Simeone, who left the Sheriff’s Office five years ago, was among the first group of individuals accused of wrongdoing by State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force.

It’s an ongoing effort to crack down on abuses in the area’s drug-recovery industry. There have been more than 100 arrests in less than three years.

Court records show Simeone faces a trial in June on the patient brokering counts, which are third-degree felonies.

Prosecutors say he paid two sober home operators to bring in patients to his Epiphany’s Treatment Center. It’s illegal in Florida for anyone to offer or pay any commission, kickback or bribe to promote the referral of patients to or from a health care provider.

Simeone’s lawyers have argued that his center helped vulnerable adults and that the evidence of wrongdoing is lacking.

According to state sentencing guidelines, he faces a minimum of three years and a maximum of 130 years in prison if convicted on all charges in that case.

After Simeone’s original arrest in 2017, financial crimes investigators began reviewing bank accounts tied to Simeone and his wife, and Children of Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit with a West Boynton address that was formed in 2011.

An arrest report shows they looked at bank account activity between January 2015 and September 2019 and found $73,556 in deposits were made to the charity. Over the same period, $49,037 in transfers from the charity were deposited into Simeone’s personal and business accounts, the arrest report showed.

“These transfers permanently or temporarily deprived the declared (Children of Wounded Warrior) beneficiaries … of the opportunity to access the funds contributed by the original donors for their assistance,” the report states. “The majority of the donations were instead used for the personal benefit of Robert Simeone or the businesses owned and operated by him.”

The investigators highlighted 16 transfers of $14,747 that were made after Simeone was charged in the patient brokering case.

The officials interviewed four donors, who said they thought they were contributing to needy kids. The investigation revealed a thank you letter from Simeone to one donor, which read: “All over the world, children of Military, Law Enforcement and Firefighters profession are forgotten when a tragedy occurs with their mother or father, hence, a loss of income.”

Simeone’s letter described that his charity “steps in and grants money to these children to continue their extracurricular activities that renew their minds and spirits and relieve them of the stress, anxiety and worry they can experience.”

Simeone sent the donor an email in early 2019, noting how he aims to put 80% to 85% off donations directly into grants for the children, the arrest report shows.

None of the donors said they gave Simeone permission to use their gift for his own purposes.

The fraud charges are punishable by up to 55 years in prison. Simeone’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for Thursday. His lawyer from the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Simeone worked for the Sheriff’s Office for about 10 years before retiring. In 2016, he had an unsuccessful run for a seat in the state Legislature, a House district that includes Palm Beach Gardens.

His military service includes four years in the U.S. Navy, from 1989 to 1993, when he fought in the Desert Storm conflict.

In 2018, Simeone tried to have his patient brokering case moved to Palm Beach County’s Veterans Court, where he could have entered a pretrial diversion program and avoided serious punishment.

But Judge Booras, who presides over the special court, denied the request, siding with prosecutors.

Simeone challenged the ruling in the 4th District Court of Appeal, which upheld Booras’ decision. The appeals court found that while Simeone is eligible for Veterans Court, he was not “entitled” to it.

Finally, in November, the Florida Supreme Court declined to review the matter, clearing the way for Simeone to stand trial.

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© 2020 the Sun Sentinel