ABC's 20/20 Questions L.A. Rehab Operator About Drug, Sex Allegations
Chris Bathum, the founder of a network of two dozen or so sober living houses and outpatient clinics and the subject of a December L.A. Weekly cover story in which several former patients accused him of coercing them to have sex with him, is the subject of an hourlong episode of ABC's 20/20 that aired Friday night.
The majority of program was devoted to the claims of three women, all former patients of his Community Recover Los Angeles enterprise: Amanda Jester, Dana Reardon and Erika Braukis, who are suing Bathum for fraud and sexual battery.
The suit alleges Bathum is himself a heavy drug user with a long history of predatory behavior:
Bathum specializes in targeting young women who have suffered childhood traumas or sexual abuse and who are particularly vulnerable. Bathum used offers of "scholarships," "internships" and other rewards and inducements to young women to encourage them to trust Bathum and to permit Bathum and CRLA to misappropriate insurance money by billing for services which Bathum masqueraded as "treatment" but which involved him engaging in sexual and drug abuse toward Plaintiffs and other clients.
In addition to facing allegations of sexual battery, Bathum also has been accused of filing hundreds of fraudulent insurance claims. The FBI and the L.A. County District Attorney both confirmed to 20/20 that Bathum is under investigation.
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In the 20/20 episode, Reardon claimed that Bathum suffered a drug overdose after a three-day, drug-fueled orgy with her and two other female patients. Bathum has denied these allegations.
But 20/20 obtained an incident report showing Bathum was rushed to the hospital to be treated for a drug overdose on Dec. 9. The episode also featured the manager of the Malibu Riviera Motel, who said he helped revive Bathum and called 911. The manager gave 20/20 photographs he took that night showing a needle, an ambulance and Bathum's white Tesla (with Bathum's license plate).
When confronted with the information by 20/20's Matt Gutman, Bathum frantically denied the whole incident.
"You gotta understand something," Bathum stammered. "You're in a world of accusation that's amazingly complex that has people saying things, all kinds of crazy things that come out in a trauma-filled world. I can tell you there's certainly easy ways to explain that."
"How do you abstractly explain how it could be falsified?" Gutman asked of the overdose claim.
"Identity theft," Bathum said, "which is already being investigated by the Sheriff's Department. You'll find my name in dozens of places, in dozens of cities over Southern California in that period of time that I wasn't in, that someone was representing me."
"Dozens of places in which your identity has been used falsely?" asked an incredulous Gutman.
"Yes," Bathum replied. "This isn't exactly an unusual crime in this day and age, unfortunately."
"It is a little bit unusual when someone is transported to the hospital under a name that's been stolen," Gutman said.
"I agree," Bathum responded.
Bathum also denied sending this Facebook message to Reardon after the overdose:
A Sheriff's Department spokesman told 20/20 that Bathum hasn't made any complaints regarding identity theft from December 2015.
Shortly after the 20/20 episode aired, Bathum posted a statement on one of his many blogs, reading in part:
I deny comprehensively the descriptions of behavior and accusations as aired on 20/20 – some accusations just plain wrong and are lies and some are intentionally misinterpreted by media producers who are competing with mass murder, hate crimes, and alligators eating children.
The 50th placed prime time show has needs for ratings that we already know will trump their calling as journalists— they have demonstrated this in previous slander cases they settled where they acknowledged actual previous fraud and the distortion of fact.
Attorneys for Bathum filed a libel lawsuit in February against L.A. Weekly parent company Voice Media Group, in reference to the Weekly's December story. Last month, Bathum's lawyers withdrew the suit, and a judge granted VMG's motion for Bathum to compensate the company for its legal fees.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that a judge dismissed the lawsuit against Voice Media Group.
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