'The rehab mogul’ convicted of sexually assaulting treatment center patients

This undated file photo released by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department shows Christopher Bathum, who described himself as
This undated file photo released by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department shows Christopher Bathum, who described himself as "the rehab mogul." Bathum, who operated more than a dozen Southern California drug treatment and rehabilitation centers, was convicted Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, of 31 counts including the sexual assault of seven patients. (Los Angeles Sheriff's Department via AP)
Los Angeles Sheriff's Department via AP

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A man known as the "rehab mogul" was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting eight women at his substance abuse treatment centers. Christopher Bathum, owner and operator of Community Recovery in L.A., Orange County and Colorado, was found guilty of 31 counts, including rape, forced oral copulation and sexual exploitation. He faces up to 65 years in prison.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office said the victims' ages range from their 20s to their early 30s. It said the 56-year-old Bathum "preyed upon female patients between 2014 and 2016 by providing them with drugs as they battled to overcome their addiction" and then sexually assaulted them "while they were under the influence."

Bathum's sentencing hearing is set for April 17.

In a separate case, he’s pleaded not guilty to charges that he billed insurers for more than $176 million in fraudulent claims.

L.A.-based health care attorney Harry Nelson, chair of the American Addiction Treatment Association, said he regularly hears stories about abuse in the addiction and recovery industry.

"I do think that the problem of sexual abuse and other violations of resident’s rights is still, unfortunately, a widespread problem," he said. 

"You have a lot of people who are very vulnerable as they’re trying to recover from a substance use issue. And it’s important that there be standards and training so that people are protected from bad behavior," said Nelson.

Since the Affordable Care Act expanded health insurance for people with mental health issues, the treatment and recovery industry has exploded in size, he said.

"Inevitably—as always happens with insurance reimbursement—a lot of opportunistic behavior occurred and a lot of profit-seeking occurred," said Nelson.

He believes state and federal laws need to change to improve regulation and oversight of the industry.

The California Department of Health Care Services oversees 1,100 residential treatment programs in the state. The department recently documented sanctions against more than 80 facilities, with some violations going back seven years. Most of the citations were for having an unlicensed facility.

Another problem, according to Nelson, is that the Department of Health Care Services doesn’t regulate sober living homes.

Federal law doesn't allow the state to get involved, and some of these homes provide treatment they’re not licensed to give, he said.

"Sober livings are generally not supposed to be providing any services other than giving somebody a bed and meals," said Nelson.