Former drug rehab operator convicted of sexual assault and other crimes
The former owner and operator of more than a dozen Southland drug treatment and rehabilitation centers was convicted Tuesday of 31 criminal counts, including the sexual assault or exploitation of seven patients and offering controlled substances.
The panel, however, acquitted Christopher Bathum, 56, on 12 similar counts and deadlocked on three others. The defendant owned and operated 13 “Community Recovery” treatment centers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as six in the state of Colorado.
As the first verdict was read -- a finding of guilty to a count of forcible rape -- a woman in the first row of the courtroom clapped loudly and began sobbing. Her friends reached to comfort and calm her and she was allowed to remain in the courtroom while the clerk read the remainder of the verdicts.
In addition to that first count, Bathum was convicted of one count of rape by force of fear, two counts of forcible oral copulation and two counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object -- all with the same victim -- as well as 12 counts of sexual exploitation and 13 counts of offering controlled substances, including methamphetamine and heroin.
The five-man, seven-woman panel deliberated for about a day before returning the verdicts and also found true allegations that the defendant sexually exploited multiple victims, clearing the way for an enhanced sentence.
Jurors acquitted Bathum of 11 counts of sexual exploitation and one count of offering a controlled substance, methamphetamine. They deadlocked on one count of rape by use of drugs and two counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object.
The acquittals and deadlocks left three alleged victims without a conviction related to their claims.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo ordered the parties to return to court on April 17 for a motions hearing and to set a date for sentencing. Bathum faces a maximum possible sentence of 65 years in state prison and lifetime sex offender registration.
“Each one is a drug addict,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller said of Bathum’s victims at the outset of the trial. Some of the women suffered from shame and hopelessness and Bathum exploited the fact that they had “shared some of their most intimate secrets with him,” Mueller told the jury.
The defendant -- who lived with his wife and children in Agoura -- gave his patients drugs as they were trying to break a cycle of addiction, used alongside them and taught them how to beat drug tests, the prosecutor said. Bathum also offered the women special privileges, such as internships, company cars and access to iPhones, positioning himself as a father figure to the young women in their 20s and 30s, but acting like a predator, Mueller said.
“They were easy targets. They were perfect victims,” Mueller said in his closing argument.
Defense attorney Carlo A. Spiga told the panel that the rehab centers did a lot of good and credited his client. He downplayed the assaults, telling jurors in his opening statement that the “evidence is not going to show that any of these acts were forcible.”
The defense attorney said he would leave it to the jurors to judge the credibility of the women testifying against Bathum, but also offered comments like, “She knew what she was doing at all times” and “How many of them were hitting him up for money?”
In his closing argument, Spiga said he was “not just passively going to sit here and accept this character attack on Mr. Bathum.”
Bathum remains in custody and will be in court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing on a separate case alleging money laundering, grand theft, identity theft and insurance fraud that prosecutors say amounted to $175 million in fake claims and relied on keeping patients in a never-ending cycle of treatment and addiction.
State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has called that case, in which Bathum is charged alongside his 44-year-old chief financial officer, Kirsten Wallace -- “one of the largest health insurance fraud cases in California.”
About $44 million was paid out by five insurance companies, including Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Cigna, Health Net and Humana, before the fraud was suspected, prosecutors said.
Bathum is being held in lieu of more than $11 million bail across the two matters.
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