A circuit court judge this month accepted a negotiated plea agreement in Horry County Court for a man accused of running an illegitimate addiction recovery center, leaving several of the defendant’s victims unhappy about his sentence.
Clayton A. White, 44, formerly of Conway, had faced nine charges ranging from unlawful practicing medicine to operating an unlicensed business and representing himself as a therapist and counselor in the matter of drug addiction, and two counts of obtaining goods by false presence, $2,000 to $10,000.
However, all of his charges were dropped, except one count of obtaining goods by false pretense and the amount on the charge dropped to less than $2,000.
White was sentenced to four days in jail, time he has already served, and restitution of $1,000, which White must pay by Aug. 15 or risk being charged with contempt of court.
The maximum sentence he could have gotten for that charge is 30 days in jail and $1,000.
Assistant Solicitor Grayson Ervin told Judge Thomas A. Russo that White used a North Myrtle Beach house “to perpetrate his fraud.” He said White issued communication saying he was an addiction specialist.
The victim in the charge that went forward was told that White offered a 60-day recovery program operating under a board of directors at what he called the Oceanside Recovery Center. Ervin said White distributed controlled substances to his clients while preying on desperate addicts and their families. Most of the victims paid $4,000 to $6,000, which is what they would have paid at a real addiction center, Ervin said.
“It was not a huge amount,” he said.
Ervin said he agreed to the negotiated plea because he didn’t think he could prove the charges.
White told the judge he didn’t agree with the broad scheme of things being said about him, but he did agree with the charge of obtaining goods by false pretense, less than $2,000.
White’s attorney Morgan Martin said he could talk a long time, but he simply asked Russo to accept the negotiated plea.
Sandy Marselis, who was not the victim in the charge White pleaded to, but was a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit brought against White, agreed that a trial would have been difficult in the case because people who suffer from addiction are hesitant to come into the courtroom due to the stigma that’s attached to addictions.
She said she paid $3,300 for one of White’s victims to go to the Oceanside Recovery Center and once that person was in the car, White said she’d have to pay another $1,900.
She said Clayton White victimized people that suffer from addiction, an action she called despicable.
“Clayton White not only took our money, but he took our hope,” she said. “Clayton White is a danger to society.”
The judge agreed that many cases don’t get tried because of the bias and prejudice that people have for people who are suffering from the disease of addiction.
Just as the brief hearing ended, a second plaintiff of the civil suit came into the courtroom very upset because she had missed White’s plea hearing after driving from Charleston to be there. She said she went to the courtroom where she was told the plea would be taken and waited there until she finally learned that the plea had been changed the day before to a different judge in a different courtroom.
Jennifer Whittle said White preys on people when they are at their most vulnerable and uses it to his advantage financially.
Whittle said the person she sent to Oceanside battled addiction for 10 years before heading to Oceanside Recovery.
She said her person of concern spent eight months with White and has now been clean for 17 months because he and his family found a legitimate treatment program that helped him accomplish his goal of overcoming his addiction,
She had hoped White would have been ordered to get some type of treatment followed by monitoring for the rest of his life and being required to reimburse the victims.
She said as a taxpayer she was appalled.
“There’s been no accountability whatsoever,” she said.
One of the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit called Waccamaw Publishers this month after the court proceeding had concluded.
Lorrie Gay said she reconsidered coming to Conway for the hearing after being discouraged by a letter that came from the Solicitor’s Office telling her that the outcome had already been decided through the negotiated plea. She finally gave up the idea of coming to the court proceeding after talking to the Solicitor’s Office and being told that her presence likely would not make a difference in the outcome of the case.
“I hope that South Carolina would take a closer look at all solicitors and make sure they’re properly doing their jobs,” she said.
She disagreed that it would have been impossible to get witnesses to come forward because of the stigma of drug addiction, saying many of them have fought back, given statements to police and sent statements to the Solicitor’s Office.
“I really am, I guess you say, at a lack for words because I’m so filled with emotion right now,” she said.
She said she felt like the Solicitor’s Office didn’t make enough of an effort to reach out to the victims and get their stories.
In regard to White, she said, “He got a slap on the wrist for portraying to be something he wasn’t.”
Gay says her top goal is to keep other people from being duped.
She said she would have been happy with the sentence if White had gotten some time and been put on probation for no less than five years.
About 20 of the victims brought a civil suit against White that ended in an undisclosed settlement in June. The case was dropped with prejudice with the parties paying their respective costs, according to a stipulation of dismissal filed June 7.
A filing in the lawsuit called Oceanside a “purported substance abuse treatment facilities” saying White is not a licensed doctor, counselor or clinician and has no medical degrees, clinical training or professional licenses or certifications. It says he could not and did not provide any professional services, counseling or treatment to any of the Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs in the case live in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
The lawsuit says White negligently misrepresented to Plaintiffs that he was a licensed doctor, clinician and/or trained drug addiction counselor who was qualified to treat the “Addiction Plaintiffs” for the chemical dependence.
The Addiction Plaintiffs went to the facility to detoxify and end their chemical dependence, the lawsuit says. It says he charged them thousands of dollars for services the facility was not qualified to provide and in fact didn’t provide due to a lack of education, training, licensing, certification and/or standing in the medical community.
The lawsuit claims that the Plaintiffs suffered monetary loss, property damage, physical injuries, mental anguish and emotional distress.
It says White had a duty of reasonable care to provide treatment in accordance with accepted practices, guidelines and regulatory standards, provide an appropriate staff with the education, training and skills necessary to treat the Plaintiffs, supervise their agents and/or employees, provide adequate housing, food and clothing for the Plaintiffs, protect the health, well-being, personal property and possessions of the Plaintiffs, protect the property owner’s real and personal property and possessions and maintain adequate licensing, accounting and record keeping. It says White enlisted the Plaintiffs to sell counterfeit merchandise at flea markets and expos while they were at the facility.
The result, according to the lawsuit, was physical pain and suffering, weight gain and/or loss, severe muscle cramps, severe headaches, loss of sleep, paranoia, depression and anxiety, extreme mental anguish and emotional distress, economic loss because of monetary payments and lost wages. It says there was damage to the landlord’s real property, furniture and other personal possessions.
In his answer to the lawsuit, White denied all of the Plaintiffs’ claims except that he managed the North Myrtle Beach Recovery Center and that he is not a licensed doctor, counselor, or clinician and has no medical degrees, professional licenses or certifications.
A North Myrtle Beach police report says narcotics detectives and a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control agent and the Drug Enforcement Agency investigated the addiction recovery centers that White opened in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. It says White took money from numerous parents and took their children into the recovery centers even though he had no state or city license to operate the business, is not licensed to operate this type of facility in this state and isn’t a licensed therapist.
It says he claims to offer various services to the clients in the centers, but never does. It says if people confront him about the center’s activities, he kicks the clients out or closes the center and starts over somewhere else.
The police report says White claimed to be a licensed therapist and distributed the medication that his clients had been prescribed by a doctor as well as others that had not been prescribed.
“There are also numerous accounts where the individual’s medication has either been short, used for another patient, or given to a patient but not theirs, or a note placed in their locker in which White is in control stating that he has used it for some reasons but will replace it.”
It says white performed group therapy/counseling sessions, administered, prescribed and gave medical orders to others. It says he had no license to practice medicine or work as a therapist and had not obtained a business license from the city or the state for himself or Oceanside.
A “factual and procedural background on Plaintiff’s memorandum in opposition to defendant Clayton A. White’s motion to quash and for protective order”, filed as part of the civil suit, says the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation issued a cease and desist order Feb. 6, 2014. It also says that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control investigated for six months before instructing White to immediately cease and desist his illicit operations. Despite no license or qualifications, White charged Plaintiffs many thousands of dollars for services he failed to provide, administered controlled substances to the Addiction Plaintiffs without a prescription and caused untold physical, mental and emotional damage. North Myrtle Beach detectives, DHEC and DEA raided and shuttered the facility in August of 2014 and sought 10 criminal charges, the memorandum says.
After six weeks on the run, White finally surrendered to the criminal authorities on Sept. 9, 2014, the memorandum says.
In a reply document, White says he was never on the run and couldn’t have been because he was wearing a GPS ankle bracelet. He turned himself into police.