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Navy veteran admits cheating drug-recovery industry and stealing from children’s charity. He’s going to prison for 5 years.

Robert Simeone served in Desert Storm and was a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office for 10 years before founding a children's charity and opening a drug-treatment center. (Palm Beach Post file photo/Observer-Dispatch/TNS)

Robert “Bobby” Simeone, a former Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy and U.S. military veteran, is now a convicted felon with a five-year prison sentence to serve.

Standing before a judge Tuesday, Simeone admitted he stole nearly $50,000 from a children’s charity he founded and also paid illegal kickbacks to lure patients into a drug treatment center he ran in West Palm Beach.

Jailed without bond since his most recent arrest in late February, Simeone pleaded guilty to 30 felony charges concerning three cases in a deal with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.

In 2017, Simeone became one of the first individuals ensnared by State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force. It’s a law enforcement push against abuses in the area’s drug-recovery industry. There have been more than 100 arrests in three years.

Prosecutors said they had evidence Simeone 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.

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Simeone’s lawyers previously contended that his center helped vulnerable adults and that the evidence of the crime called patient brokering was missing.

But financial crimes investigators also began reviewing bank accounts tied to Simeone and his wife, and Children of Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit with a West Boynton address.

The charity, formed in 2011, claimed to aid children of fallen military men and women, police officers and firefighters.

Court records show detectives 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, an arrest report showed.

“These transfers permanently or temporarily deprived the declared (Children of Wounded Warriors) 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 investigation included interviews with four donors, who said they never gave Simeone permission to use their gifts for his own purposes.

Facing a trial this year on the patient brokering counts, Simeone, 49, elected Tuesday to resolve all of the charges against him.

Circuit Judge Joseph Marx approved the terms negotiated by defense attorney Robert Pasch and three prosecutors, Victoria Goldberg, J.D. Small and Michael Rachel.

The agreement required prosecutors to drop 27 felony counts, and Simeone to be convicted of: 26 counts of patient brokering; one count of conspiracy to commit patient brokering; and one count each of organized scheme to defraud, money laundering and grand theft.

Those 30 charges are punishable by a total of up to 175 years in prison. Instead, Simeone should be out in less than five years, factoring in 91 days credit for time already served behind bars. He will have to serve five years of probation after his release.

The plea deal also requires that Simeone: pay $81,000 in fines; pay $27,800 to three victims; pay more than $25,000 for the cost of the investigations; testify in other patient brokering cases; and not work for any nonprofits, or “in any capacity related to health care, substance abuse treatment, clinical lab testing, and/or recovery housing.”

“We are happy to put this behind us and move forward,” Pasch said, adding his client faced a minimum of 13 years in prison had he gone to trial and been found guilty by a jury.

Pasch said another factor in taking the deal was a decision Tuesday by the Florida Supreme Court concerning a defendant in another major patient brokering case.

The court declined to review an appeal by James Kigar, former operator of a Boynton Beach treatment facility called Whole Life Recovery, who faces over 100 charges.

Kiger’s counsel had been seeking to rely on a particular defense — which also could have benefited Simeone — but the Supreme Court won’t take the case.

Simeone worked for the Sheriff’s Office for about 10 years before retiring five years ago. His military service includes four years in the Navy, from 1989 to 1993, when he fought in the Desert Storm conflict.

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© 2020 the Sun Sentinel