Another lawsuit was filed last week against rehab operator Chris Bathum, alleging that he used his rehab facilities, Community Recovery Los Angeles (CRLA), "to financially enrich Bathum and his associates and to feed Bathum's depraved appetite for drugs and young women to sexually victimize."
It’s the second sexual battery lawsuit in six years against the 54-year-old Bathum, who’s been a party to at least 88 lawsuits in L.A. County, including an ongoing dispute with a disgruntled investor, Cliff Brodsky.
As we reported two months ago, Bathum is currently being investigated by the LAPD, FBI, Los Angeles District Attorney and several major insurance companies. A memo summarizing a Blue Shield investigation stated that Bathum had been "engaging in extensive unlicensed residential treatment activity, and in potential patient abuse, fraud and forgery. ... Blue Shield received information from four sources that Christopher Bathum may be supplying drugs to patients and acting in a sexually inappropriate way with female patients."
The three women who filed the suit are all former patients of Bathum's treatment center, and the suit accuses him of, among other things, fraud, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sexual battery.
The suit alleges a pattern 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 towards Plaintiffs and other clients. Bathum would then abuse and betray that trust under the guise of providing "treatment" and "therapy" to these young women, by isolating them in settings where Bathum would introduce and use drugs in front of them, aggressively encourage them to take drugs despite his knowledge that they had entered CRLA and paid for services to avoid drugs, and then force sexual encounters and demand sexual favors in return for their being allowed to continue in the CRLA program.
When asked to comment on the suit, Bathum responded via text: "I have no confidence anything I'd say to you would be accurately reported. I'm suing you in case you haven't been served yet — have your lawyer talk to mine maybe. No comment don't talk to me."
He then followed up with a written statement: "We have not seen the actual allegations nor any lawsuit — apparently made out to the wrong company names etc — nor have we been served. We welcome this opportunity to show the motivation and lack of fact in the allegations — usually whispered — that may be stated here now and be examined for once."
Community Recovery comprises more than 20 outpatient clinics and sober-living houses, mostly in the Los Angeles area, though a few are based in Anaheim and in Colorado (it also owns Grounded, a coffee shop on Melrose). At any given time, it has 200-plus clients, many of whom go on to work for Community Recovery, first as interns, then as low-level staff members. When we spoke to him in December, Bathum said he expected the company to take in $30 million in revenue in 2015.
"I am very proud of the treatment at Community Recovery and the 170 or so people who now have a year clean that went through our program," Bathum wrote in his statement. "I take responsibility for the care of each client that come [sic] to Community Recovery as a principal and part owner but it has been some time since I have been directly involved in individual client care. … When a person attacks Community Recovery they are not attacking myself but the work of 250 staff and the sobriety of 275 clients that we will do anything to defend."
Bathum has been sued for sexual battery once before, in 2010, by former patient Julie Hluchota. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2011. In July 2015, Hluchota died; her obituary attributed her death to a losing battle with drug addiction. Bathum has denied allegations related to Hluchota.
Hluchota's lawyer, Alan Schimmel, is also representing the three women in the lawsuit filed last week. The Weekly is withholding the names of the plaintiffs because they are alleged victims of sex crimes.
The suit claims that Bathum is a frequent methamphetamine and heroin user and details one incident when Bathum holed up in a motel room with three young women – patients of his — for three days. It alleges that the four shot meth and heroin, that Bathum had sex with two of the women and that he "attempted to force himself" on the third (one of the suit's plaintiffs). At the end of the three days, according to the suit, Bathum overdosed and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
The suit goes on to describe another incident, on Dec. 27, 2015, during which Bathum led a guided meditation in a dark sweat lodge and allegedly molested another one of his patients, another plaintiff.
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Says Bathum in his statement: "The plaintiff lawyer is an opportunist who smells money and is again bringing people new in recovery into the highly stressful world of litigation where he does not take responsibility for their sobriety, which he knows he puts at risk, and he does this without facts and with only the allegations of those new in their recovery, who now have to put themselves though [sic] the spot light and judgement of their peers, family and community."
Three Community Recovery employees also are named as defendants in the complaint. The suit claims they knew about Bathum's sexual misbehavior and "failed to report the egregious conduct and/or protect clients ... from Bathum's wrongful conduct."
Regulation of the burgeoning rehab industry is lax. There is no requirement to hold any kind of license to open a facility (Bathum himself has no license other than one to practice hypnotherapy). In-patient facilities require licenses, but sober living houses and outpatient clinics do not. And there are no rules governing what kind of treatment a rehab facility must provide in order to qualify for insurance reimbursements.
"These facilities aren't monitored, they aren't well-regulated, and the people running them are usually money makers," Schimmel told us in December. "And a lot of times, something horrible occurs."