UPDATE, June 30: Chris Bathum has resigned as chairman of Community Recovery and has been relieved of all responsibilities. See full update below.
Chris Bathum, the founder and owner of Community Recovery Los Angeles, a chain of two dozen or so sober-living houses and outpatient clinics, was arrested in Lost Hills yesterday for “transport [or] sale of a controlled substance,” according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. He was released on $30,000 bail at 4:40 a.m., less than 12 hours after he was booked.
Bathum, who was the subject of a December L.A. Weekly cover story, previously has been accused of drug use, insurance fraud and sexual battery (allegations he has vehemently denied).
Also on Tuesday, the California Department of Health filed a complaint in L.A. County Superior Court against Bathum and Community Recovery L.A. (or CRLA) for operating “unlicensed alcoholism or drug-abuse recovery or treatment facilities in Los Angeles County.” The complaint asked the court to shutter the whole operation.
In May 2015, the Department of Health investigated two CRLA facilities: a sober-living home in Woodland Hills called House of the Women and a facility on Melrose dubbed the Melrose Project. The investigation found that both facilities were “improperly providing residential alcoholism or drug-abuse recovery or treatment services without a license,” according to the complaint.
In California, sober-living homes are mostly unregulated and don't require a license to operate. But there are limitations to what those homes are allowed to do. For example, they are not allowed to provide any kind of therapy or treatment, and they aren't allowed to dispense medication.
Inspecting the House of the Women, the Department of Health found a room labeled “Room Detox,” as well as a medication room, according to the complaint. At the Melrose Project, the department interviewed former clients and staff who confirmed that it was a treatment center.
In August 2015, the Department of Health sent letters to both facilities, ordering them to cease all illegal activities. The next month, Community Recovery CEO Kirsten Wallace responded with a letter, claiming, “The practices you demand us to cease and desist have ceased and desisted.”
But the department returned to the facilities last month and, according to the recent complaint, found that CRLA is “still providing services without a license, despite CRLA's written statement of correction. In fact, the department interviewed staff and clients who confirmed that ongoing services were being provided at the facilities.”
The department now seeks a permanent injunction barring Bathum and “all persons acting in concert” with him from “operating any unlicensed alcoholism or drug-abuse recovery or treatment facilities or in any way facilitating such operations,” according to the complaint. It also seeks to level a fine against Bathum.
A number of women have claimed that Bathum molested them while they were patients at CRLA. A recent episode of 20/20 highlighted those allegations, as well as Bathum's own alleged drug use.
We reached out to Bathum's publicist for a comment; we haven't heard back yet.
UPDATE, June 30: Chris Bathum has resigned as chairman of Community Recovery, according to a press release circulated today by CRLA publicist Jannell Barrett-Jones.
“The Board of Directors of Community Recovery has, effective immediately, given full office and title of Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board to Kirsten Wallace and subsequently removed those responsibilities from Founder Christopher Bathum,” the press release states.
Bathum is quoted in the press release as saying: “I am immensely proud of the work that has been done at CRLA, and I am honored and humbled by the support I have received from the team and clients both present and past. [T]he time has come for the amazing talented team that is there to take the company to event greater heights”
The press release does not address Bathum's arrest. Screenshots from CRLA's internal communications app, Basecamp, which were forwarded to L.A. Weekly, show Bathum explaining that he was picking up a former client in his car when the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department pulled him over:
“Barely inside the LASD jurisdiction I was pulled over handcuffed and the car searched. I was told drugs were found in my passengers things and I was under arrest. She was given a ticket and I was given 3 felony charges. Those of you who know this world can make of that what you may. It will not stand and most likely will be dismissed. And no hate towards the client — please it could have been you.
“I don’t pretend to know exactly how these things work, when the LASD decides to get involved and how coordinated they are, but I do know I am way too much a lightening [sic.] rod for this focus now, and am removing myself entirely from direct and active work with the community. When we get this resolved we can reevaluate – it's the right thing for now.”